This report is the first published output from the evaluation of Local Authority Led Pilots in 13 areas in Great Britain set up to inform Universal Credit (UC) design and roll-out and to support Local Authorities (LAs) in their planning for UC delivery. This report was written in May 2013, approximately 9 months after the project areas were announced but only 4-5 months after the projects went live. Evidence and learning has accrued from the preparatory phase of the projects but remains tentative at this stage.
The local authority led pilots have been set up to inform UC design and roll-out and to support LAs in their planning for UC delivery. The pilots commenced in September 2012 (although most only started in January 2013) and will run through to December 2013. The evaluation is being conducted in-house (although some LAs have bid for external evaluation monies as part of their bid) and the primary focus of the pilot evaluation is to capture evidence from individual pilot activity to inform the delivery and design of UC.
The report is concerned with highlighting the key learning since the pilots began early in 2013. In doing so, it draws on the evidence supplied by the pilots themselves, as this information has been provided by each of the LAs, findings and basic statistics presented in the summary cannot be independently verified by DWP analysts.
The learning from the pilots is being actively shared within the UC Programme along with that from the Direct Payment Demonstration Projects (DPDP) and incorporated in the development of UC policy and operations, in particular to inform payment exceptions and personal budgeting support and the Local Support Services Framework (LSSF).
The emerging learning from the evaluation will be available to local authorities, social housing providers and interested stakeholders via the Learning Network. This is a web-based community sponsored by DWP and DCLG working with Chartered Institute of Housing and Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation freely sharing learning with LAs, social housing providers and stakeholders originally established for the DPDPs. We will continue to work with local authorities to draw lessons from the pilots in developing Universal Credit.
Some important findings
Not all customer groups have access to the internet either with the right tools/equipment or internet access – some local authorities report around 50-60% access and LAs have tried various approaches to improving access but have found it difficult to encourage take up.
Budgeting and financial management support
Many social housing tenants are reported to have problems with debt and rent arrears which might compound possible problems with personal budgeting. LAs have tried a number of approaches to help people with financial support, but results are mixed.
LAs have set up work access support to encourage customers to focus on employment as a way of maximising income. In order to make work support services more attractive to customers local authorities have engaged in various activities and approaches, take up has been limited.
Vulnerable groups and the triage process
A number of LAs have designed effective triage processes to identify customer groups most likely to be affected by welfare reform and who need additional support services.
Some authorities report that existing partnership arrangements do not facilitate the effective joint delivery of local services. More work is needed to understand the core business and service delivery processes of each partnership agency. Setting up these partnerships takes time.
Local authorities report that data sharing amongst partners is a significant problem and the lack of shared data is limiting their ability to identify and target particular customer groups.