Low Income Family Tracker (LIFT) Service
- Meeting of Performance and Administration Cabinet Committee, Wednesday, 9 June 2021 7.30 pm (Item 6.)
The Head of Revenues & Benefits presented a report on the Low Income Family Tracker (LIFT) Project which had come about through joint working with Kent County Council, Kent district councils, Citizens Advice, the Kent Community Foundation and the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP). Six local authorities, including the Borough Council, had been selected to take part in a trial that would last for one year. The product used datasets to enable better decisions to be made. For example, on whether residents were in or would be in, financial crisis for one reason or another. The first project meeting had taken place and the three objectives were set out in paragraph 2.4 of the report.
Objective 1 – The officer noted that whilst it has been difficult to tie up the data into one system, this project would help the Council to make better informed strategic decisions not only for Revenues & Benefits but other services too.
Objective 2 – This would mean identifying households either in ‘financial crisis’ or potentially moving into potential crises and then engaging with individuals to see what they needed to avert the crises. For example, 133 residents had been identified who may be eligible for pension credit but had not taken it up for one reason or another. It was noted that this might have made a huge difference to their financial wellbeing during a crisis such as the pandemic. It would also enable individuals to access other benefits such as free TV licenses etc.
Objective 3 – In relation to the second bullet point, it was noted that only a finite amount of assistance was financially possible and the aim was to be more informed to be able to assist and support people appropriately sooner rather than later when they might need more assistance.
The following points were raised during discussion on this report:
· A question was asked on achieving the first objective without encroaching on an individual’s personal affairs. The Head of Revenues & Benefits advised that much of the data was already held by the Council in relation to claims for benefits and this would enable a picture to be created where data would be extracted which would contain an identifier that only the Council could unlock. The algorithm to achieve this was very complex and it was intended that at the next meeting of the Committee a demonstration of the Policy In Practice dashboards would be made.
· In addition, communication campaigns would be used using both social media and non-digital means, to encourage people who the Council could assist to come forward. If the Council was the first point of contact to vulnerable individuals, then their liability could be reduced.
· Following a question of people falling through the gaps, the officer confirmed that unfortunately, some people always would and this project was about trying to close those gaps. Once the information held by the Council was collated, areas the Council may wish to target may emerge. To this end mailshots and even door knocking could be used.
· The project was considered to be a potential game changer. However, a question was raised on whether the algorithm could stop unscrupulous people from using the data for their own advantage. Members were assured that as with existing benefit claims supporting evidence would be required in support of any claims. The system would also identify concerns and the officer would continue working with the DWP and audit to identify fraud and reduce risk.
· In relation to a lack of understanding by residents of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, the officer agreed that a lot more could always be done and he was working to simplify the scheme for residents and officers to make it more transparent.
The Head of Revenues & Benefits was thanked for an enlightening report on the very interesting early stages of the projects.
Resolved that the report be noted.