I noted how the DWP and landlords and local authorities (and the Scottish government) will have their work cut out because information sharing will be limited. Almost all of it will have to be go through the claimant; the assumption being that they will have the comprehension skills, the motivation and the ability to pass on details critical to receiving what they're entitled to and in turn passing on what landlords are due. So rent changes, for example - increases in Scotland [and northern Ireland], decreases in England [and Wales] - need to be reported by the claimant to the DWP.
The conference addressed this as a key concern as knowing the details of (and preferably receiving) a claimants housing element payments is crucial to helping manage rent collection. It affects all landlords, whether collecting Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) or not. It's down to data protection issue and that will become the epicentre of one of the seismic shockwaves that UC will cause across all stakeholders working with claimants.
The Scottish government are working on an agenda of mitigation against cuts and detrimental reform. The Bedroom Tax is already offset through almost automatic award of Discretionary Housing Payment. Its plans under the limited control it will have over UC include more frequent payments and making APAs automatic for social tenants. This did not go without challenge because it defeats the principle of self-responsibility at the heart of UC. And yet, it's difficult to argue against given the low likelihood of claimants staying on top of, for one thing, notification to DWP or their landlord about changes of circumstances.
I've worked with long-term unemployed people for over 20 years and there's a few things I know about them. These are observations not value judgements but, as I said to the conferences as I opened my presentation on the Social Publishing Project's response to UC, if claimants had the skills, the motivation and the wherewithal to administrate the paperwork the DWP expects, many more would be in work and on decent enough money not to worry about Universal Credit.
I put Quids in! and its various branded products, from the quarterly magazine and website to the New Tenants Guide and UC Guide, in the context of ill-considered assumptions placed at the heart of welfare reform. 'As always at these events,' I said, 'there's a lot of talk about claimants but not much involving them. And yet there are pivotal to the success of UC. Quids In's job, therefore, has changed. You need us to be turning these silent partners into active partners. And we welcome that brief. We're up for that challenge.'
It's a tall order expecting claimants to fulfill their role. Managing the claim will qualify them for a basic admin job that has little or no supervision. But the DWP will not and probably cannot go back now, so it's up to the rest of us to try to make this work.
For our part, we already have the UC Guide but we now have a professional training course for social landlord staff that will promote understanding of the pitfalls and development of local responses. We'd also like to develop peer support programmes to go a step further and make claimants a critical part of the solution by empowering them to help other claimants. At the same time, Quids In's quarterly remit will focus on the challenges thrown up by UC, including the triple threat of banking, budgeting and being online, (our 3 Bs).
80 people in Scotland signed up to join the Quids In Professional Network and to receive more information about what we can do to help, so something I said struck a chord. If it's mitigation against cuts they want, they seem to agree we have a role in that.