The coronavirus pandemic and resulting national lockdown has hit many families hard, increasing the number of households that are struggling financially and placing more pressure on council services.
Thousands more people and hundreds of businesses are claiming financial support from the Government and local authority, in order to manage through the lockdown period.
Sheffield City Council has responded with the primary aim of keeping all residents safe, healthy and well, and fulfilling its duty in preventing the spread of the virus.
This has included:
- moving to virtual meetings, to allow essential decisions to continue being discussed and approved, with transparency and fairness
- monitoring the city’s finances to enable services to continue operating effectively and prevent unmanageable overspend
- working with partners in the city, supporting people to make claims for Universal Credit
- supporting people to make claims for council tax support
- providing additional council tax support for those still unable to meet the cost
- making internal provisions to enable staff to continue working, including
- deploying staff to new roles to support vulnerable people in the city
- enabling remote working for thousands of staff to work from home
- supporting staff in vulnerable circumstances
Councillor Terry Fox, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources at Sheffield City Council, said: “Over the last 9 weeks a phenomenal amount of work has taken place to support the city and our residents through these extremely challenging circumstances.
“We have had to adapt and change in so many ways and our people have responded exceptionally well. During our first online Cabinet meeting this week we established our core priorities which are at the root of all our decisions and actions.
“Everything we do, every decision we make is for the benefit of Sheffield and our people, to keep people safe and well, protect the most vulnerable people, support people to get back to school and work safely when the time is right, follow Government and scientific lead and help people with the difficult decisions they are having to make and support the city’s economic recovery.
“Often is the case that when times are difficult, the most vulnerable are hardest hit. Through financial support and intensive community support we have worked tirelessly to reduce isolation and vulnerability.
“We have transformed our services, realigned our working practices and reacted swiftly to this fast moving situation and the challenges it presents. I am in no doubt that there is still so much more to do but we are continually monitoring how things are working across the city and we are prepared to learn and to change as and when we need to.
“I want to thank every single person for their strength and resilience during this time. For each of us this will be different, so whether you’re making food parcel deliveries, or simply staying at home to keep safe and slow the spread, you are making a difference.”
The Council’s Cabinet agreed the Finance & Resources service response during their first virtual Cabinet meeting this week.
The Council Tax Service has a dedicated email account, email@example.com, which taxpayers can contact if they’re struggling to pay and want to make a change to their Council Tax instalments. This allows the council to take residents’ individual circumstances into account and provide further support where necessary, including making an application for Council Tax Support if eligible. Further details can be found at https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/home/council-tax/difficulty-paying.
As part of the Government-funded Council Tax Hardship Fund, the council is reducing the remaining Council Tax liability for all working age Council Tax Support recipients in 2020-21 by £150. The process will be automated, and no additional application will need to be completed in order to receive this. However, this is separate to Sheffield’s own Council Tax Hardship Scheme, and taxpayers who receive the Government funded £150 reduction in their Council Tax, can still apply for additional assistance at www.sheffield.gov.uk/dhp. A significant increase is expected in applications for Council Tax Support, and as such, the Government Council Tax Hardship Fund is to be ring fenced to provide support towards Council Tax, and will be reviewed in 3 months, to see if the anticipated increase in demand for Council Tax Support has materialised.
Universal Credit and Welfare
Regular meetings have been taking place between Sheffield City Council, DWP, Citizens Advice, Shelter and South Yorkshire Police to share information about how vulnerable people are being supported, and to ensure that people are able to get the right support locally.
There have been 2.3 million new claims for Universal Credit (UC) since the beginning of the crisis, with approximately 20,000 in Sheffield over March and April. There was a significant delay in processing those new claims but DWP has redeployed resources and has brought down their processing times to normal levels.
Approximately 1000 tenants have gone on to Universal Credit during this period, which is a substantial increase (roughly double the normal amount), but not as significant as expected. This, along with intelligence from DWP, suggests that a lot of people going on to UC are those who may not have experienced the benefit system before, or who were previously only on Tax Credits. Citizens Advice Sheffield have quickly relocated all its staff to work from home and is providing support via phone, email and webchat to approximately 120 contacts a day.
Council meetings will continue to take place online for the foreseeable future.
For all the latest information sign up to the council’s COVID-19 email updates.