How Derby City Council is planning to minimise the fallout from Universal Credit

The UK’s first Single Discretionary Award combines three payments into one.

The Guardian recently discovered that the Universal Credit rollout is causing many applicants to fall into dire circumstances due to design flaws which result in lengthy delays during transition.

The most damaging aspect of Universal Credit is the six-week period before the first payment is made. During this time, many are unable to afford basic provisions and turn to their local authorities for discretionary payments. This increased demand is putting even more pressure on staff who are already feeling the weight of cutbacks and difficult targets.

At times like this, the only way forward is to consider new ways of working, which remove any superfluous processing, in the hope that urgent support can be provided to the most vulnerable.

Derby City Council recently did exactly this when they launched the UK’s first Single Discretionary Award (SDA). The SDA combines three payments into one — the Discretionary Housing Payment, the Local Area Support Scheme and Council Tax Help. It’s administered through the SDA Gateway, provided by Empowering Communities, which connects seamlessly into E-CINS.

By bringing the payments together in this way, the Council is addressing several problems. Firstly, many people weren’t even aware of the specific awards they were entitled to and didn’t apply for the correct one. Secondly, some applicants were entering contradictory information on each claim form in an effort to trick the system. And thirdly, the underlying causes were rarely being addressed.

It’s a groundbreaking step, particularly given that around 60% of local authorities are still using paper application forms, let alone a combined process.

Here’s how it works:

  1. A single form (containing different parts) is completed online.
  2. The award is processed and if the applicant requires additional support, their details are sent through to E-CINS.
  3. Emerging trends are highlighted and support is monitored via the E-CINS data visualisation tool.

It’s interesting that sometimes it takes new technology to change a culture and that’s certainly happening here. By using the SDA Gateway, the Council can tackle the root cause of an individual’s financial crisis in an effort to move them towards independence. Previously, practitioners were only able to address the effects of poverty, rather than the source.

To help in this respect, we’ve developed a number of tools within E-CINS that monitor an individual’s progress. One of these, the Wheel Assessment, displays scores in a graphical format so it’s easy to assess an individual’s needs. By overlaying previous assessments, you can quickly identify areas for improvement.

With the rollout of Universal Credit picking up pace, I hope that councils across the country adopt Derby’s mentality. If discretionary awards continue to be administered in isolation, vulnerable people will continue to fall through the gaps and end up desperately seeking assistance from food banks and loan sharks.