Agenda item

Revenues & Benefits Update

Minutes:

The Service Manager (Revenues & Benefits) provided the following update to the Committee:

Performance and Workload of the Benefits Service

The average number of days to assess new benefit claims is now 14.8 and therefore under the target of 20 days.

HB claims are processed in 13.1 days and CTR claims in 15.6 days

The average number of days to assess changes in circumstances is 4.4 days and therefore under the target of 5 days.

HB changes in circumstances are processed in 5.1 days and CTR changes in circumstances in 3.9 days

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)

The DHP Fund for 2019/20 is £221,412 and as at 31 August 2019 £95,396 had been allocated to support residents within the borough.

233 applications have been received with 114 being successful.

16 cases have involved helping customers with the spare room subsidy restriction and 23 with the Local Housing Allowance restrictions.

Universal Credit (UC)

In May 2018, the Universal Credit (UC) full service was rolled out across the Borough. It is now in operation throughout the whole of England and as a result the Housing Benefit total caseload (i.e. the total number of claimants within the Borough) has reduced from 6,551 at 1 April 2018 to 5,016 at 1 September 2019; a reduction of 23.4%.

437 Housing Benefit cases were cancelled in 2018/19 as those claimants either moved onto Universal Credit or experienced a change in circumstances that means that they are no longer eligible to claim Housing Benefit.

153 Housing Benefit cases have been cancelled in 2019/20

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) can be awarded to top up and assist residents receiving UC providing the award includes an element for housing costs. In 2019/20 79 UC cases have received a DHP.

Council Tax Reduction Scheme

The Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS), which replaced council tax benefit from 1 April 2013, has been uprated and aligned with national benefit rates each year in accordance with prescribed requirements from Government and in line with benefit rates and allowances provided in the annual uprating circular published by the DWP.

The Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS) 2019/20 will be based on the 2018/19 scheme with amendments for prescribed requirements and uprating this is available to view on our website at http://www.gravesham.gov.uk/home/council-tax/council-tax-reduction/council-tax-reduction-scheme

In addition to the above amendments, to simplify claiming and administration of CTRS, the scheme has been amended to allow a claim for UC to be treated as the intention to claim council tax reduction from the date of the UC claim. That information can be obtained via the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Data Hub. A claim made in this way would of course be subject to all other rules around entitlement as a claim made directly to the Council

The CTRS caseload has reduced from 7,317 at 1 April 2018 to 6,857 as at 1 September 2019.

Collection of council tax and business rates

As at the end of August the collection rate for Council Tax is 47.51% the target is 97%.  This compares to a collection rate of 47.50% at the same point in the year twelve months ago which resulted in a year end collection rate of 96.87%

As at the end of August the collection rate for Business Rates is 47.37% the target is 99%.  This compares to a collection rate of 47.06% at the same point in the year twelve months ago which resulted in a year end collection rate of 99.11%

Citizens Access Council Tax

Citizens Access Council Tax is live as a view only solution that will allow customers to view the council tax account balance, instalments due and payments made, view council tax bills for current and previous years and view any discounts or exemptions including Council Tax Reduction.

It has been launched without too much publicity to allow us time to test and ensure the product works as expected in a ‘live’ environment.

However there is still the remaining functionality of Citizens Access Council Tax to implement as well as Citizens Access Business Rates and Citizens Access Benefits.

In time, it is fully anticipated that the digital solution will generate savings in paper and postage as well as resourcing efficiencies within the team.

 

 

The Service Manager, Revenues & Benefits fielded questions from the Committee and highlighted the following:

 

·         Since the introduction of Universal Credit; the Council doesn’t get as many housing benefit claimants which makes administration easier but overall the system is not easier for the claimants with waiting times for housing support reported to be up to 5 weeks.

·         The Council has seen a rise in Discretionary Housing Payments claimants since the introduction of Universal Credit.

·         The Discretionary Housing Payment fund is given to the Council by the Department for Work and Pensions and has reduced been reduced by £50,000 since last year.

·         The criteria for Discretionary Housing Payment is based on income and further details on why the individual is suffering hardship. The Council looks at each claim on its own merits and follows good guidance.

·         The Service Manager, Revenues & Benefits agreed that the Council needs ensure that its services are fully accessible to all people.

·         The Citizens Access Council Tax is a good online solution that embraces the digital age. Paper options will always be available for those that need them but the Council will be encouraging as many people as possible to go for the digital solution. Further functions will be added to the system in the near future and there is also the potential for an App.

 

 

 

The Committee noted the Revenues & Benefits Update.