Low Income Family Tracker (LIFT) Demonstration
- Meeting of Performance and Administration Cabinet Committee, Thursday, 23 September 2021 7.30 pm (Item 10.)
The Head of Revenues & Benefits presented LIFT to Members.
Members were informed that it was a brand new software for the service which would be used corporately and strategically to help identify those vulnerable residents who were in financial crisis or were on the verge of going into financial crisis. Identification and engagement were a key objective for the service and the new dashboards available through LIFT would give officer’s much more information. That information would allow officers to provide support to more residents who previously may not have been known to the service but were in need of financial assistance.
The Head of Revenues & Benefits gave the Committee a detailed demonstration of the Low Income Family Tracker system.
Following the demonstration, the Head of Revenues & Benefits fielded questions from the Committee and explained that:
- The service had limited information available to them but the service was promoting support available to residents in the Borough and officers were engaging with the community to ensure that anyone who needed support would receive everything they were entitled to. LIFT was a very useful tool for those identified as vulnerable through housing benefits but it would also assist in identifying those vulnerable people that were in receipt of Universal Credit but weren’t in receipt of Council Tax Reduction which was previously not possible
- LIFT was brand new and had only been live for the last three months; it was updated monthly and over time trends would appear as more data was fed into the system. August’s data had just been received so new cases should start to be seen by the team and hopefully that would continue every month once the new data was received. The aim of the system was to identify those in need so that they could be engaged with and their arrears reduced; they may also be entitled to other benefits which would be flagged up to the service and officers would be able to advise people what they should be claiming
- There were three objectives for the system:
- Objective 1 – Use the information to strategically help various departments across the Council
- Objective 2 – Reduce the amount of people in financial crisis
- Objective 3 – Reduce the amount of Council tax arrears
- Backdated benefits were dependant on the benefit and the rules in place for it; for example the Council Tax Reduction Scheme could only be backdated one month
- One of the dashboards was only received this morning but its role was to look at the effects of universal credit and the effects of the removal of the additional £20 per week. Currently the dashboard suggested that 87 households would be removed from universal credit as the current amount they owed was less than the £20 per week but the service would seek to provide support to those households. The dashboard was new and it would be developed over time, as more data was fed into the system trend analysis would be possible and the service would be able to track the results of the support provided much better
- The 67 households in relative poverty was concerning and the service would also seek to support those households too
- As the team would be engaging more using the information that had been gathered, it was recognised that further resourcing would be required. The Head of Revenues & Benefits had already looked into further staff resourcing and had discussed it with the Director (Corporate Services) and the Chief Executive
- Data was gathered from the Revs & Bens system and was then sent off to Policy and Practice but none of the data they received had any personal information on there; they only received the postcodes which were used to map the data. The service would also be reviewing universal credit and it would eventually be built into the LIFT system
- The HMRC were not linked to any system within Revenues & Benefits; the team always had to request evidence to support benefits claims. The service did not hold any financial information on universal credit anymore; all of that information resided with the DWP but the service was aware of how much universal credit residents were receiving and any changes that had been made. An issue for the team stemmed from changes in universal credit for residents as each change affected the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and residents Council Tax bills had to be adjusted accordingly
- Benefit claims for income and rent would need valid evidence submitted; the Head of Audit & Counter Fraud Shared Services team led on suspected fraudulent claims and investigated any claims that had been received by the service officers felt were concerning or fraudulent. The Revenues & Benefits Team still dealt with housing benefit claims and cases but it could take a long time to validate claims as the team had to wait on information and evidence before a claim could be validated fully
- Revenues & Benefits staff as well as the enforcement agents were trained to identify signs that a resident maybe vulnerable and in need of support from the Council. When staff sent out reminders, bills and notices often red flags would pop up which might indicate that a resident had fallen on hard times and needed assistance; enforcement agents knocked on doors and during their work they were able to see if a household was struggling and refer them to an officer
- A household that was usually a good bill payer that had fallen behind on arrears was an indicator for the team and the household would be contacted
- Hybrid working had not affected the team negatively as enforcement agents and officers were still in the office and conducting door knocking on residents doors; the Head of Revenues & Benefits recognised that to improve the engagement rate more work would have to be undertaken with third party organisations. As those organisations knew of certain cases that needed help that the Council would otherwise be unaware of
- Using the new LIFT tool and working in partnership with third party organisations and officers, LIFT would develop further and would hopefully inform the Council of more residents who may need help but won’t contact the Council directly
- Access was very restricted to LIFT; only three people in the Council had access to it and everything was GDPR compliant. The data was not sold or sent out of the country
- The next step upon identification of vulnerable residents would be to send out letters however they usually did not generate a large response so follow up phone calls and house visits would be arranged. Additionally, the team had been working with the Communications Manager to advertise services available to residents in financial crisis and there had been numerous campaigns on social media regarding help available
- Gravesham Council was one of six Councils who were working on different elements of the system; representatives from those six Councils met monthly to discuss what was working well and what wasn’t. By the time the pilot ends in February 2022, there would be a large stream of data that could be reviewed and measured; once the data had been reviewed a performance measure would be created and added to the Corporate Performance Reports that were submitted to the Committee
- The team were aware of claimants income through their housing benefit claims and Council Tax Reduction Scheme claims due to the evidence that was required for the claims but the team had never held information on estimates of what each households expenditure was
- The Chief Executive was supportive of the system and he wanted it to be considered corporately as it could be used elsewhere in the Council; the Head of Revenues & Benefits had been asked to give a similar demonstration to Wider Management Team. Following that meeting, it would be discussed strategically and then it would be decided how it would be distributed to the rest of the Council including to other Members
The Chair thanked the Head of Revenue & Benefitsfor his detailed demonstration and answers.