Today the Benefit Cap went live in many areas of the country, and Policy in Practice published its first in-house publication today, the Benefit Cap White Paper. The paper details the approach pioneered by Lewisham Council to help their residents who are impacted by the Benefit Cap, illustrates how the approach is having a real impact on people’s lives, and shares key lessons for other local authorities.
85% of people who have been through Lewisham’s approach say that they are now more likely to look for work.
Lewisham’s Approach to the Benefit Cap
As part of their status as a Universal Credit Pilot, Lewisham Council is pioneering a new approach for supporting residents to manage the impacts of the household Benefit Cap due in the summer, and to support residents prepare for the transition to Universal Credit later this year.
Lewisham recognised that the impact of the cap will not only be felt by the households affected, but by the local authority that has a statutory duty to house families that are evicted as well.
In order to meet this challenge, Lewisham has developed a holistic approach that brings together support linked to four key areas: budgeting monthly payments, sustaining tenancies, transacting online, and accessing employment.
Step 2: Engagement – face-to-face interviews using the Benefit Cap Calculator
Step 3: Ongoing support – Individual support plan developed signposting to service providers
Before taking part in the approach, residents knew nothing or very little about the welfare changes or how they would affect them personally.
After taking part, people were much more knowledgeable and motivated to take action:
- 85% of people reported knowing all or most of what they needed to know about the Benefit Cap
- 79% of people said they knew all or most of what they needed to know about Universal Credit
- 89% of people said they clearly understood the results of the personal financial calculation
- 85% of people said they were more likely to look for work following their appointment
Key Lessons for Local Authorities
- The style of letters is important; friendly personalised letters had better response rates.
- Letters should initially be sent in small batches, a big batch of letters generates more contact than staff can handle.
- Local authorities should identify households that are exempt before making contact. This not only saves households that have been incorrectly identified as affected by the cap from undue stress, but it also saves staff resources by avoiding unnecessary phone calls.
- The timing of calls is important. Avoid times that are generally busy for families (e.g. the school run).
- The Benefit Cap Calculator is a powerful tool that helps to explain the household’s current entitlement, the impact of the Benefit Cap, and the benefits of work. Importantly, it is fast and visual, which means that the advisor can spend more time with an engaged claimant on the next steps.
- The local authority Benefit Cap team may in some cases be better placed to provide ongoing support, rather than handing over to external agencies.