May 28, 2019 4.14 pm This story is over 58 months old

Food vouchers surge 65% as Universal Credit is rolled out

Council officers are warning things could get worse though

The number of food vouchers given out by council welfare teams across Lincoln and North Kesteven rose by 65% last year with the council blaming the “obvious impact” of the Universal Credit roll-out.

According to reports to City of Lincoln councillors next week, the authority’s shared services Welfare Team with North Kesteven District Council, issued 505 food vouchers for local community larders and food banks in 2018-19.

The figure is up from 306 the previous year and council officers say it is “in line with the national trend”.

Lincoln Jobcentre on Orchard Street. Photo Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

The team have dealt with 7,326 customers for benefit related queries an increase on the 5,484 in the previous 12 months.

Additional benefits across NKDC and CoL rose to £3,302,533 from £2,988,383.84. An extra £314,149.16

This is in addition to Backdated/lump sum payments of £383,570.97. Down from £393,742.98.

In total the team helped residents across the two authorities deal with £979,815.72 of debt, down from £1,323,356.87 last year.

City Hall, off Orchard Street. Photo Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

The team saw a reduction in the money advice side, however it put this down to a separate Universal Credit Support Team being set up.

Another report before councillors warns that if control is wrestled away by Central Government and placed in the hands of Citizen’s Advice, it could have a major impact on claimants.

The move will see funding for Universal Credit support withdrawn from local authorities for 2019/20.

Council bosses have warned residents could suffer further as it loses control.

Last year, councils’ internal UC support team assisted 1,643 people in Lincoln and 336 in North Kesteven – dealing with benefits totalling £483,650 and £80,355 respectively.

Food banks at the end of last year were in danger of shelves going empty. Photo: Connor Creaghan for The Lincolnite

The service was even awarded a national ‘Excellence in Partnership Working’ award.

But officers now warn the hand-over could see a reduction in the level of services and raise concerns residents might not claim council tax support, see their rent arrears increase and miss out on discretionary housing payments.

The report outlines plans for North Kesteven District Council to retain a support function, while in Lincoln support will only continue until July 1 unless further arrangements are made.

They call for “crucial” key links and communications with Citizens Advice to ensure referrals.

In October last year, reports told how delays in the new benefits had forced people into debt and seeking help from food banks and welfare charities with some losing out almost £400 a month.

Food banks across Lincoln also put struggles to “meet ever growing demand” – which led to a shortage of donations and empty shelves – down to the changes in the benefits system.

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