Plight of vulnerable people in Hartlepool 'tragic' after impact of Universal Credit, meeting hears

The plight of vulnerable people in Hartlepool at the hands of Universal Credit is ‘tragic’, a meeting has heard.

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 5:58 am
File picture from PA.

Councillors have stressed the importance of a financial advice service helping those most in need as it continues to face growing demand.

Hartlepool Borough Council provides financial advice and guidance services to support residents battling issues such as child and family poverty, and has seen a rise in demand in recent years.

The advice provided by the service is free and impartial and aims to support residents of Hartlepool to maximise entitlement to benefits.

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The current financial advice service is provided by a local voluntary and community sector organisation, West View Advice and Resource Centre, and the contract ends on 31 March 2020.

Representatives from West View Advice and Resource Centre said a huge number of residents from across Hartlepool depend on the service.

Councillors praised the service offered and said issues such as Universal Credit leave people in Hartlepool needing further support.

Coun Jim Lindridge said: “I think it’s a really great support mechanism and it needs to continue.

“I think it’s all about needs, and being person-centred.

“It doesn’t take a genius to look at Universal Credit in Hartlepool, putting that impact on vulnerable residents, we’ve got people using food banks, in and out of work, which is tragic.

“As far as I’m concerned, we need to focus on needs and put as many resources as we can to meet the needs of the public, they are vulnerable, I think what we’re doing is dead right.”

It came as the Finance and Policy Committee backed plans for how the service will be offered going forward.

They supported an option which will involve a revision of the current service specification to work with a provider to offer ‘greater agility to respond to the needs of the community and manage the supply and demand more effectively’.

This was instead of options to continue the service under the same specification as it is, or to being the services in house.

A council report said from April 2017 to the end of September 2019 the service has had 4,831 individuals access 9,309 appointments.

Additionally £12,706,180 benefits have been applied for, with £5,889,872 confirmed as successful, although the provider assumes £10,800,253 were successful.

They also provide support with the three most common benefit applications- personal independent payment, attendance allowance and council tax support.

It comes as the separate welfare support team has also seen applications increase almost 250% since 2014/15, rising from 1,631 to 4,014 in 2018/19.

Gemma Ptak, council assistant director for preventative and community based services, said the service offered is critical to people in the town.

Val Evens, from West View Advice and Resource Centre, gave the committee an example of the service they offer.

She said: “There is 58 people receiving debt advice constantly, there is usually a waiting list for around 10 people, they usually wait around 2 to 3 weeks maximum.

“As for triage, we do telephone triage so we try and deal with the problems straight away and as soon as we possibly can.”

A further statement from West View said: “A huge number of residents from across Hartlepool depend on the service offer.

“Many of these residents come from the most impoverished and disadvantaged groups in the town and need our support.

“Our track record of first class service and delivery is a testament to our success in giving vulnerable people the help they need in desperate times.”