A new helpline has been launched to help people affected by reforms to the welfare system.
The changes, which are being introduced by the government over the next few months, will have a significant impact on the unemployed but also on working residents currently receiving certain benefits like Tax Credits and Disability Living Allowance.
To help those affected, Wolverhampton City Council and Wolverhampton Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) have set up a special helpline to guide people through the changes.
The helpline – 01902 572006 – is manned by staff from the CAB and the city council’s Welfare Rights team and launched this week.
Welfare Reform is targeted at people of working age, with the Government’s underlying principle being that work should pay more than benefits. The changes are most likely to affect groups including single parents, larger families and working families on low incomes. The changes will be introduced in phases, with people claiming Council Tax Benefit being asked to pay a minimum of 8.5% of their Council Tax for the first time from next month (April 2013) following the partial withdrawal of government support for Council Tax Benefit.
At the same time, many under-occupied households will see a reduction in the amount of Housing Benefit they receive of 14% if they have one spare bedroom or 25% if they have two or more.
Also next month, the Social Fund provided by the Department for Work and Pensions will be abolished, and instead councils will provide grants for those in extreme hardship.
From October 2013, a cap will limit the total amount that can be received in benefits to £26,000 a year, or £500 per week, for couples or lone parents, and £18,200 a year, or £350 per week, for single person households.
At the same time, people on Disability Living Allowance will start to transfer over to the new Personal Independence Payment, which will involve re-applying and being re-assessed.
Universal Credit will also be launched nationally for some new benefit claims in October 2013. Over the next four years, it will replace all existing means-tested benefits and tax credits for working-age adults and dependent children.
Finally, in April 2014, annual increments for all state benefits for working age claimants will be capped at 1%, with the exception of disability benefits.The new helpline is one of a number of ways in which the Wolverhampton Partnership, which includes the city council and other organisations in the city, is seeking to support members of the public likely to be affected by the changes.
With the Government moving more application processes online, the council is also stepping up the drive to give people access to broadband internet – at present, only 64% of Wolverhampton residents have broadband, below the national average.
Meanwhile, organisations, particularly Wolverhampton Homes, are giving their giving customers detailed information about the changes, and an information bank is being created to enable public and third sector organisations to offer help