Agenda item

Partnership Manager, Department of Work and Pensions


The Scrutiny Panel received evidence from a variety of expert advisors:


Sarah Holton and Julie Pritchard, Department of Work and Pensions


In response to a request, Sarah Holton confirmed that she would provide a written response to the core questions and would attend the next meeting of the Panel.


Sarah Holton then gave the Panel an overview of her work:


·         Unemployment rate is 3.7% and is the lowest since the 1970s.  More people have moved into work. Sarah Holton advised that she was not aware that poverty had increased across Northampton.

·         The Department of Work and Pensions works closely with many organisations to support deprived areas and has outreach workers.

·         “Entitled to calculation” can be undertaken and Officers can then look at the individual’s circumstances.  Individuals would never be asked to move from a Legacy Benefit to Universal Credit unless this was financially better for them.  Officers help individuals make best use of the income that they have.


The Scrutiny Panel made comment, asked questions and heard:


·         The Chair reminded the Panel of the expected outcomes of this Review and commented that previous evidence had provided details of the impact Universal Credit had on people’s lives and the difficulties people have accessing help from Benefits’ Officers.

·         In response to a query regarding 3.7% unemployment and the types of work people are currently in, Sarah Holton advised  Universal Credit pays more the less an individual earns. It is based on earnings.  If an individual is on a zero hours contract and does not work at all this then remains consistent; a taper for Universal Credit is detailed on the website of the Department of Work and Pensions.

·         The employer must notify HMRC of the earnings of each employee.

·         In response to a query regarding sanctions, Sarah Holton confirmed that there is huge process that takes place before sanctions are implemented.  Sanctions are the last thing that HMRC wants to introduce.  The aim is to get the individual’s money right and ready from the first assessment.

·         In response to a query regarding the potential causes of individuals having to use food banks, Sarah Holton commented that she considered this to be mismanagement of money.  HMRC can do entitlement assessments.

·         HMRC works collaboratively with partner organisations to help people.  It has a claim commitment but it needs individuals to tell officers about their circumstances.  Individuals can contact HMRC for assistance.

·         In response to a comment that individuals often don’t have anything left for food after housing and other bills have been paid; they often go into food banks at the weekend, unable to feed their children; Sarah Holton responded that she goes to Corby and Towcester food banks and works with them to see what their income is and assist them. Sarah Holton confirmed that she was very happy to attend a food bank in Northampton and work with users.

·         Housing is always going to be an issue as rents can often be very high; HMRC can not influence the rents.  Costs of housing is often higher than housing benefit of the housing element of Universal Credit.

·         The Chair commented that zero hours contracts can often contribute to poverty.   A lot of vulnerable people cannot read and write.  Sarah Holton confirmed that HMRC has partner organisations that can assist people with claims.

·         DWP has a visiting team.

·         The Universal Credit app is easy to use.  The Scrutiny Panel suggested it could be a potential recommendation of its final report that this app is widely promoted.

·         In response to a question about zero hours contracts, the Panel was advised that under a Legacy contract, should individuals work more than 16 hours a week their benefit would be reduced and their claim closed.  With Universal Credit, if an individual’s earnings fluctuated – eg more earnings, less credit the account would only close if they earnt more than Universal Credit.  If the job comes to and end they can notify change of circumstances and a re-assessment is done.

·         The Panel commented that there are a number of people in work, receiving benefits and still not having enough to live on and it was further commented that sanctions are quickly and abruptly implemented. 

·         Sarah Holton advised that money mismanagement was a key factor  and was asked to provide anonymised case studies to the effect.

·         Sarah Holton confirmed that she works closely with Corby and Towcester and should she be invited to any groups, organisations or Food Banks in Northampton she would attend.

·         In response to a question, Sarah Holton confirmed that there is a programme of training in place that comprises 39 vulnerabilities.  Mental health training includes suicide and ex-offenders. She highlighted that her Office is not a trainer to give support regarding mental health but they can and do signpost.

·         It was realised that some individuals are fearful to go to the Job Centre. There are lots of posters in the Job Centre regarding partner agencies.

·         Sarah Holton confirmed that a lot of outreach takes place through schools and advice can be given.

·         The Customer Services Manager advised that Sarah Holton regularly visits NBC and is part of the Welfare Reform meetings; that comprise a number of partners.  Improvements come from these meetings.   


The Panel requested that Sarah Holton submits a written response to the core questions and a written brief on all the comments raised at this meeting. The Democratic and Member Services Manager undertook to contact Sarah Holton. Timescales and criteria regarding sanctions would also be useful.


Sarah Holton was thanked for her informative address, the contents of which were noted.


AGREED;  That Sarah Holton is asked to submit a written response to the core questions and a written brief on all the comments raised at this meeting. The Democratic and Member Services Manager would make contact with Sarah Holton. Timescales and criteria regarding sanctions would also be useful.