The Work and Pensions Committee has launched an inquiry into the provisions of the “local welfare safety net”, it has been announced.
MPs will investigate locally run schemes which have replaced the discretionary Social Fund, including local Council Tax support and Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs).
The Committee will look at the interaction between the national benefits system and locally run schemes, whilst considering variations in the level of support available and differences in the eligibility criteria across different local authorities.
They will also consider whether local discretion and variations in provision represent “localism in action” or in fact create a “postcode lottery”.
Karen Buck MP, Committee member, said: “Recent changes in welfare provision – such as the benefit cap, housing benefit regulations and council tax benefit localisation – have placed more pressure on local councils to offer a basic safety net.
“This raises huge questions over their capacity to meet need, and over variations in practice between areas which I hope the inquiry will help us understand.”
Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “There is a great deal of concern that some of the least advantaged people are slipping through our safety net into a state of hunger.
“Our welfare safety net has developed over decades because there is a level below which we as a society do not believe anyone should fall, no matter where they live.
“We want to understand how local councils are adapting and coping with the changes in benefits and the extra responsibilities on them to meet genuine need and maintain that basic safety net.”
The Committee will ‘provide a balanced assessment of the extent to which emergency welfare and housing policy objectives are being met at local level, including whether the most vulnerable are consistently being given sufficient support.’
Call for evidence
The Committee is inviting individuals, charities and other organisations to submit evidence to the inquiry, particularly concerning:
- The extent to which local authorities use different criteria for deciding eligibility and the merits of those criteria.
- Accessibility and the advertising of the availability of support.
- The possibility of a broad framework or set of rules by which these types of scheme ought to operate.
- The interaction between discretionary housing payments and local authorities’ statutory duties to homeless households. In particular, whether someone who can no longer afford their accommodation is owed a statutory rehousing duty.
- Best practice and innovation at local level, including in non-financial support.
- Central monitoring of the adequacy of support.
Written evidence can be submitted via the Committee’s local welfare safety net inquiry page.