Huw Lewis says advice overhaul is needed to cope with benefit reform
Wales to launch ‘NHS-style’ welfare service
The Welsh housing minister has pledged to create an ‘NHS-type’ welfare advice service to cope with an predicted spike in the number of people expected to be hit by welfare reforms.
Speaking exclusively to Inside Housing, Huw Lewis said he planned to ‘completely revamp’ advisory services, following a warning from Cut Watch Cymru in February that one in four Welsh people will be hit by the changes to the benefit system introduced under the UK government’s Welfare Reform Act in March.
Under the present system, welfare advice is administered by external organisations such as Citizens Advice and charity Shelter.
Mr Lewis has proposed to launch an alternative with a national housing advice service which would be managed centrally by the Welsh Government but delivered locally, like medical services are through the NHS.
‘It’s like an NHS for housing advice,’ he said. ‘We’ve got people who know their onions, but what we don’t have is good systems and perhaps we also have a problem with visibility and people’s awareness when it comes to being able to take advice before the crisis comes. It is a desirable thing to seek advice before eviction proceedings start and before the bailiffs call.’
Mr Lewis was unable to reveal the cost of the service or provide an indication of when it will be introduced.
The welfare changes, which begin to come into effect from next April, include a total household benefit cap of £500 a week and the introduction of under-occupancy penalties for social tenants deemed to have spare bedrooms.
A spokesperson for Cuts Watch Cymru said its members were already facing an increasing demand for advice services. ‘Any steps by the Welsh Government in this regard will be welcome,’ she added.