Written evidence from the Blackpool Council CLP0053


To what extent have the cost of living support payments been sufficient at helping eligible households meet the cost of essentials such as food and electricity?             

Overall the payments have been extremely helpful, despite anomalies in parts of the processes and despite the monthly income eligibility criteria not taking inflation into account. In the vast majority of cases, the system has been great in getting the money out to residents but anomalies exist as detailed below and could be fixed for 2023/24 payments as well as reimbursed to those residents who this system failed in 2022.

Blackpool faces various challenges which contribute to high levels of deprivation across many households; this was the case for many years leading up to the cost of living crisis. Blackpool’s 2021 Census results indicate that the town has around 25.14% of the population with a disability. 41.28% of households have a member with at least 1 limiting illness, unemployment was around 25.13% of which 13.18% were long-term unemployed. A further 29.92% were in low income occupations. 2021 Census - Census of Population - Data Sources - home - Nomis - Official Census and Labour Market Statistics (nomisweb.co.uk)

This picture of household finances being stretched due to employment and ill health difficulties is compounded by a seasonal tourist economy brings with it seasonal patterns of weekly payment and seasonality within universal credit payment entitlements.

The wage growth is not keeping in line with rising inflation.  The annual survey of earnings found that in 2022, average wage increases were £16 per week for working people in Blackpool, which was £2 less per week than the wage increases seen across the  Lancashire region. annual survey of hours and earnings - resident analysis - Nomis - Official Census and Labour Market Statistics (nomisweb.co.uk) 

Analysis from the Centre for Cities highlights that the rate of inflation in Blackpool and its neighbour towns was higher than average for the UK at 11.3% by March 2023. It estimates that Blackpool workers are around £100 poorer than they were in March 2022. Cost of living tracker | Centre for Cities. Therefore, expanding the cost of living payments to households who are earning a little above the Universal Credit monthly income threshold (£100 per month as identified as the local level of inflation by Centre for Cities) would be welcomed.

Families who fall just out of scope of the cost of living payments can apply for discretionary funding through the household support fund awarded to local authorities, however due to the high level of ill-health and disability in the town, widening the cost of living payment criteria to include those households who are just outside of the eligibility would then mean the household support fund could be used more broadly to support the disabled households who cannot reduce their energy consumption without seriously compromising and exacerbating their existing health conditions.  

It is appreciated that energy companies have a responsibility to support customers who are struggling to pay bills, which may include this group just outside of the eligibility for cost of living payments, however when rights of entry to install more than 17000 prepayment meters in Blackpool were granted in 2022; this type of energy company support left households in arguably a far worse position financially than extending the threshold of eligibility for a cost of living payment in line with local inflation rates would have.

2372 households in the qualifying months were nil payment of Universal Credit, either due to weekly payments or benefits sanctions. This is 14% of Universal Credit entitled households in Blackpool.

Of that group of 2372 households, the majority are residents who are paid 4-weekly and therefore receive 13 payments a year. These households missed out on their Cost of Living payment when they received two pay packets during the assessment period. There is no flexibility or discretion in the system to acknowledge that under any other circumstances they would have been entitled to the Cost of Living Payment.

Where residents have spoken to us about their experiences of appealing the decision, we are informed the DWP’s response was a flat no. These cases are able to be identified easily from DWP system records and these households should be reimbursed with the full cost of living payments from 2022. 

With regard to sanctioning, it is fair to assume the intention was never to link a Cost of Living payment to the status of someone's Universal Credit award, and the choice of Universal Credit awards was more of a marker that aimed to establish entitlement for those on the lowest incomes. Therefore the payment should be made irrespective of whether someone has been sanctioned.

There is a precedent in the 4 weekly pay anomaly resulting in the nil payment that has historically led to other entitlements being withheld. The council have worked with one resident who lost out on the Warm Homes Discount, something they had received for many years. At the very least there should be some discretion or reasonableness applied to these cases when it is evident that at any other time of the year they are eligible for the Cost of Living Payment. They are being penalised twice in this instance because they are paid 4-weekly. The cumulative impact of losing both support packages was particularly acute for this resident. 


May 2023