Agenda item

Corporate Performance Report: Quarter 4 2020/21


The Head of Revenues & Benefits presented the Committee with an update against the Performance Management Framework, as introduced within the Council’s Corporate Plan, for Quarter 4 2020/21 (January to March 2021).

The Head of Revenues & Benefits highlighted the following:

·                    PI 23 - Average processing time taken for Housing Benefit claims (days) – It was confirmed that at the end of Quarter 4 the average had been 12.4 days with the last year’s indicator being 12.8 days and the national and Kent averages being 17 days which was an excellent result.

·                    PI 24 - Average processing time for changes of circumstance in Housing Benefit claims (days) – It was confirmed that at the end of Quarter 4 the average time taken had been 2.9 days with the previous year’s average being 4 days and the national and Kent averages being 6 days. The current processing time (at the end of May 2021) for Housing Benefit claims was 14.2 days with the last year’s average being 16.2 days.

·                    In relation to Change of Circumstances, Members noted that at the end of May 2021 the average time had been 7.3 days compared to May 2020 performance being 3.8 days. The reason for the drop was attributed to the increase in the Government’s requirements around Full Claims Reviews. This equated to a further 45 claims per months having to be assessed which had had an adverse effect as had some minor resource issues. In response, officers had looked at ways to improve administrative processes, It had been discovered that the process could be made more efficient and was rectified which improved performance immediately.

·                    PI 26 – Total number of reported corporate complaints – At the end of Quarter 4 64 complaints had been received which was slightly up on the previous quarter. 209 complaints had been received in total over 2020/21 with 255 being received in 2019/20. In relation to this Quarter’s complaints, 58 had been considered at Stage 1, four at Stage 2 and two at Stage 3 so the majority had been resolved at an early stage.

·                    PI 50 – Total number of people signed up to Citizens Access – At the end of Quarter 4 8,594 customers had signed up which was a 19% increase on Quarter 3 and a 92% improvement since 2019/20 which was very encouraging.

·                    PI 49 – Percentage of posts involved in shared service arrangements - The annual indicator had been static being 6.1% in 2019/20 and 6% in 2020/21. The Review of the Working Partnership Framework had been completed and had been considered by the Committee in March 2021 and had been adopted by Cabinet in June 2021.

The Head Audit & Counter Fraud Shared Service highlighted the following:

·                    PI 55 – Percentage of internal audit recommendations implemented – The Committee was advised that this figure stood at 73.5% in Quarter 4 and 76.2% in Quarter 4 2019/20 so performance had been consistent.  There were only 13 recommendations outstanding which was excellent given the additional pressures wrought by the pandemic. In addition 95% of agreed assurance work had been delivered although some reports were still being finalised. Work on the 2021/22 Work Plan had commenced and a number of a reviews were underway. Counter Fraud work had been affected by the pandemic and available resource had been directed to the National Fraud Initiative Exercises. A lot of this work had seen early results in 2021/22 with cashable savings already higher than last year. Visiting for invesigations had already recommenced with the easing of national restrictions and face to face interviews were also going to recommence as Government restrictions were relaxed. It was hoped that this would see results return to those seen in previous years.

The Information Governance Manager highlighted the following:

·                     PI 56 – Percentage of information requests completed within the statutory deadline – In Quarter 4, 86% of requests had been responded to within the deadline which was an increase of 2% on the same quarter in the previous year and a consistent average on the mid 80% was considered to be good performance. Work was being undertaken to improve policies including the training to all officers who handle Freedom of Information requests.

In relation to Council Tax and Business Rates Collection, the Head of Revenues & Benefits advised that collection of Council Tax had been measured at 94.5% was down 2% compared with the previous year as was the national average.  There had been no court time allocated to the service during 2020/21 in respect of non-payment cases. Alternative repayment plans had been made with nearly 7,000 residents including deferred/extended payments.

Business Rates collection stood at 96.5% in Quarter 4 which was down 1.8%. However, the national average was down by 8% so the Borough Council had performed well.

The officer advised that the Benefits Team measured the time it took to process claims but noted that the checks needed to be as accurate as possible. A new national indicator, the Housing Benefit Agency Award (HBAA) had placed the service for 2020/21 in the top quartile nationally. This showed that the service was not only assessing claims speedily but also accurately.

With regard to Discretionary Housing payments, these were very important to those financially affected by the pandemic and  £301,000 in grants had been allocated to the Council by the Government all but £943 had been allocated (99.7%) which had been used for this purpose.

The following points were raised during discussion on this item:

·           PI 26 - Total number of reported corporate complaints – Whilst it was noted that most of the complaints received had been resolved in Stage 1 of the process, it was asked if there was a logistical issue especially in relation to the increase in complaints received in relation to Waste & Horticulture. The Head of Revenues & Benefits advised that Waste & Horticulture was not his service and that the number of complaints received by Revenues & Benefits had actually seen a reduction. However, the pandemic had caused many issues and he undertook to provide an answer.

·           PI 26 – Total number of reported corporate complaints – The Head Audit & Counter Fraud Shared Service advised that fly tipping reports were unlikely to be included in the numbers for Waste & Horticulture complaints as they were a separate issue and also confirmed that he did not know the details of individual complaints.

·           PI 55 – Percentage of internal audit recommendations implemented – Members were advised that it was not the responsibility of the Head of Audit & Counter Fraud Shared Service to implement recommendations but simply to pursue implementation information from the responsible services.

  • A question was raised regarding outstanding audit recommendations, specifically one regarding the new IT backup system. The Assistant Director (IT & Transformation) advised that this was a result of IT equipment supply chain issues and problems with external parties being able to visit the Civic Centre during the lockdowns in 2020. As a result there was a delay on the installation of the new systems and equipment. However, the new equipment has now been installed.

·          Following a question on Discretionary Housing Payments, Members were advised that had been 35 applications as at 31 May 2021, 25 had been successful of which 3 cases had involved helping customers with the spare room subsidy restrictions ad 14 with the Local Housing Allowance restrictions. These were national restrictions i.e. not specifically imposed by the Council. The discretionary housing payment had been awarded in those particular cases to alleviate the financial ‘penalty’/restriction.

·         The Council Tax collection rates were a very good reflection of the support from the Local Authority and the Government.

·           The Head of Revenues & Benefits advised that the Government in response to the pandemic, had introduced 14 different business grant schemes. However, a number of businesses had not been eligible under any of these schemes and had a rate liability. The variation of collection rates between local authorities was dependent upon the mix and size of businesses in the Borough.

·           Concern was expressed at the perceived increase in the number of people with disabilities due to the pandemic and that none of these vulnerable people should be missed. Head of Revenues & Benefits agreed and drew Members’ attention to the last item on the agenda. He also undertook to look at various schemes in Benefits and Council Tax reduction and to consult with relevant stakeholders and groups.

Officers were congratulated on the continuous improvement in the face of trying circumstances and the Chair thanked all for their hard work and Audit staff who supported other services during the pandemic.

            Resolved that the report be noted.

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