A group supporting residents affected by changes to the welfare system has received widespread praise.
The Mayoral Task Group on Welfare Reform has put in place a number of measures to help those most in need, since being formed in 2011.
The group, established by North Tyneside Council, includes representatives from various partner organisations, including the Department for Work and Pensions and the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
A report by the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) highlighted the good work carried out by the group in partnership working.
And the group has been showcased on the national CAB website as an example of best practice for its work with partners and consulting with residents.
CAB director Mark Almond said: “In the last four years since the Task Group was established, Citizens Advice North Tyneside helped clients gain £19,487,019 in extra benefits and dealt with £40,472,741 of client debt.”
Coun Ray Glindon, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “I sit on this task group and have witnessed first hand the excellent collaborative working between our community and voluntary sector partners, Job Centre and many of the council’s services areas.
“The focus, led by the Mayor, has been on supporting our residents first and foremost.”
Some of the group’s achievements have included:
• Holding community events to raise awareness of the welfare changes before they happened
• Offering support and advice sessions about the bedroom tax
• The introduction of the Welfare Assistance Scheme, which replaced crisis loans
• Develop the Discretionary Housing Payments Policy giving prioritised support for the most vulnerable
• Producing information via leaflets and a YouTube video to help people understand why sanctions were applied, which helped contribute to a 40 per cent drop in sanctions across the borough – the lowest level in the North East
Michael Armstrong, DWP Senior Partnership Manager and a member of the task group, said: “The group epitomises how a spirit of open and honest communication, collaboration and cooperation can be used to improve the wellbeing of all and in particular those residents who need additional help, protection and support.”
Mayor Norma Redfearn said: “It’s such a privilege to be part of a group which does so much in terms of providing invaluable advice and support to those who need it most and I am delighted that this has been recognised both regionally and nationally.
“The hard work and effort put in by this group is a shining example of how different organisations can come together in a positive way for the benefit of the community.”
The task group is now working hard to prepare residents for the introduction of Universal Credit.
The group will also monitor changes to the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 and prepare measures to support people at the right time.