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News Report Page 15 of 21
Publication Date:- 2018-05-
News reports located on this page = 2.

Campaigners back MPs' recommendations for changes to Universal Credit for the self employed

THE Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has welcomed the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee report which makes a number of recommendations on how Universal Credit could better support self employed claimants, including calling for greater flexibility in income reporting periods and for better alignment with the Tax system.

Robin Williamson, LITRG Technical Director, said:-  "Existing Universal Credit rules very clearly do not work for most self employed people, penalising those who have fluctuating incomes and expenses. The Government should heed the Work and Pensions Committee's sensible recommendations, as well as those in LITRG's earlier report, which would at least go some way towards improving the situation. The Committee's recommendations, which echo some previous suggestions made by LITRG, would also allow for a better balance between supporting entrepreneurship and protecting the public purse, as well as bringing greater parity between the employed and self employed in the system. We particularly welcome the Committee's recommendations in relation to the need for flexibility in income reporting period for each business and for better alignment with the Tax system. LITRG would go further and encourage the Government to re-define the Minimum Income Floor (MIF)1 so as to allow for the deduction of pension contributions. There is little justification for permitting the deduction of pension contributions without any limits from earnings when assessing the Universal Credit of employed earners, but not making a similar adjustment when setting the MIF for self employed claimants."

LITRG has been raising some serious concerns with both Parliament and Government about the treatment of self employed claimants under Universal Credit since 2010. In its 2017 report self employed claimants of Universal Credit: lifting the burdens3 LITRG summarised the main shortcomings of the current system in respect of the self employed and suggested positive reforms that would achieve a better balance between encouraging entrepreneurial activity and protecting the public purse while also at the same time ensuring greater parity with employed people earning similar amounts. Without these changes, LITRG said, there is a very real possibility that people will be discouraged from starting self employment and existing claimants will be forced to give up their work; a possibility also highlighted in today's report and surely this cannot be right.

The current rules in Universal Credit, especially the MIF, take a very broad brush approach in an attempt to deal with a minority of people who may not be genuinely carrying on self employment. However, the rules penalise those who have fluctuating incomes and those who have big business expenses that fall in any 1 month rather than being spread over the year. This is something which the Committee recognise as a normal part of self employment and rightly point out is far from a reliable indicator of the viability of a business.

Robin Williamson said:- "It cannot be right that a self employed claimant who earns the same amount as an employed claimant over a 12 month period should receive significantly less in Universal Credit support, nor can it be right that low income self employed claimants may not have their pension contributions fully reflected in their award in the same way as employed claimants do. To deal with these 2 problems, in our 2017 report we recommended that averaging be allowed over a period of up to 1 year and we are pleased to see that the Committee has repeated this recommendation which will go some way in ensuring the system treats the self employed more fairly when compared to employees. However, unless the MIF is also amended to reflect pension contributions paid, some unfairness will remain."

Under the current rules, claimants have a 1 year start up period before the MIF is applied to them. However, many businesses take much longer than this to get established and LITRG has previously recommended that the start up period be extended to at least 2 years, preferably 3 years. Today's report by the Committee highlights the lack of evidence held by the DWP for setting the period as 1 year and recommends that it should be increased to 3 years at the discretion of work coaches where there is evidence of progression, viability and achievement of expected increases in earnings each year. This would be accompanied by a tapered introduction of the MIF at the end of year 1, increasing to the full MIF at the end of year 3.

Robin Williamson said:- "While we are fully supportive of the extension of the start up period, we think that doing it in this way is likely to place additional burdens onto work coaches and create complexity for claimants and DWP with the tapering of the MIF. We strongly welcome the Committee's exploration of the links between the Tax system and the Universal Credit system. This is something which is often overlooked. In our 2017 report, we called for better alignment between Universal Credit and the Tax system in respect of defining income and reporting requirements in order to relieve the heavy administrative burden on claimants that monthly reporting in Universal Credit brings. Encouraging work coaches to discuss the links between Tax and Universal Credit, as recommended by the Committee, is a good 1st step to achieving better alignment. The Committee's report recognises the importance of self employment in the economy and the seriousness of the issues facing self employed claimants. It also acknowledges that getting this balance right will be a key determinant of the success of Universal Credit. It highlights that, as yet, the Department do not know how the MIF and other self employed rules will impact on claimants and their behaviour and we support the recommendation that this evidence should be gathered as soon as there are a sufficient number of claimants in the system. However, even without this formal research, it is clear that the existing rules are not fit for purpose for the majority of self employed claimants who do not have a steady, consistent monthly income. We therefore urge the Government to consider the Committee's recommendations, in addition to those made in our earlier report, carefully and make the necessary changes to the existing rules."

Commissioner urges community groups to work together to prevent crime

ORGANISATIONS which are working to help prevent crime and protect communities in Merseyside are being invited to apply for a share of a fund aimed at helping to build stronger, safer communities.

This is the 4th year that Merseyside's Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy has opened the Crime Prevention Fund, which is used to help charities, community groups and social enterprises stop problems before they occur, by reducing the opportunities for crime and by deterring people away from becoming involved in anti social and criminal behaviour.

A total of ₤135,000 is available from the fund for innovative community safety projects or schemes that will run over the next 12 months. This year the Commissioner is encouraging organisations to work together to submit bids for between ₤5,000 and ₤25,000 from the grant and she is specifically inviting applications for project which focus on tackling serious and organised crime.

Jane said:- "Serious and organised crime is, for many people, their greatest concern. It blights our communities, bringing misery and harm and causing decent, ordinary people to live in fear. Many organisations and community groups are already working with Merseyside Police and my office in tackling this issue, and I want to encourage and maximise this collaborative approach by encouraging organisations to join forces to bid for funding from the Crime Prevention Fund. Local people understand their communities better than anyone and know what will work best to improve their area. We are fortunate to have a wealth of voluntary and community groups which are working hard to prevent people, especially young people from getting involved in crime. By pooling resources and working even closer together we can all do more to make a difference for communities across Merseyside. I've met hundreds of people across Merseyside who are really proud and passionate about the places they live in and are committed to keeping them safe and I'm excited to see their proposals for how this funding can be best spent."

In 2017, 13 grassroots organisations were chosen from among more than 70 applications to receive a share of the Fund to help make communities across Merseyside safer. Successful organisations included the Royal Court Trust, which was awarded ₤25,000 to continue to run the hard hitting drama Terriers, and the educational charity Ariel Trust who received ₤15,000 to deliver preventative education to young people on a range of issues, including domestic and homophobic abuse, child sexual exploitation and grooming.

A ₤10,000 grant was also given to Breckfield and North Everton Neighbourhood Council (BNEC) to help them deliver their Making Waves project which delivers both outreach and centre based services for young people living in areas of high deprivation to divert them away from crime.

Jane said:- "Over the last year, this funding has helped to deliver some really important projects which have made a profound difference in the lives of the people they support. Even a small cash boost can be of huge benefit to many of these grassroots projects and I look forward to seeing what more we can deliver together over the next 12 months. Any organisation wishing to apply for funding will need to show how their project works to tackle 1 of the following 4 priorities set out by the Commissioner; preventing crime and anti social behaviour; tackling serious and organised crime; supporting victims, protecting vulnerable people and maintaining public safety; or improving road safety. Applications will also need to show how the initiatives will deter individuals from committing crime, reduce the number of people entering the criminal justice system, or lower reoffending. They will also be assessed to see how well they will protect vulnerable communities."

The fund will be administered by the Community Foundation for Merseyside (CFM), an independent charity which assists grant making and charitable giving. Local groups who would benefit from the funding can find more details on its website.

CFM is also available to help any organisation looking to make a bid. The closing date for applications is 5pm, on Monday, 11 June 2018.


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