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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 07/12/2004
Benefit Performance



Summary & Purpose
The purpose of this report is to inform members of the progress, since April 2003, in the Benefits Section and to set out the future aims of, and challenges, facing the section. This report was considered by the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 15th November 2004.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Natural
Resource Use
Pollution
Prevention and Control
Biodiversity
and Nature
Local
Environment
Social
Inclusion
Safe, Healthy
and Active
Communities
Local
Economy
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Positive
Positive
Positive


APPENDIX J
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE – 7TH DECEMBER 2004

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Title:
BENEFIT PERFORMANCE

[Wards Affected: All]
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Summary and purpose:

The purpose of this report is to inform members of the progress, since April 2003, in the Benefits Section and to set out the future aims of, and challenges, facing the section. This report was considered by the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 15th November 2004.

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Quality of life implications – social, environmental and economic (sustainable development):

E-Government implications:

Move to electronic payment will help Waverley meet the E-Government targets.

Resource and legal implications:

There are no resource or legal implications arising from this report.

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Background

1. The Benefits Section deals with the administration of the Housing and Council Tax Benefit scheme on behalf of Waverley Borough Council. This administration involves both the payment of benefit to those properly entitled and the prevention and detection of fraud and error. The Housing and Council Tax Benefit scheme is a national scheme with rules set by Parliament but administrated by Local Authorities. Currently Waverley has 6039 households receiving help towards their housing costs. (Please see graph at Annexe 1 for more details on the caseload of customers).

Performance

2. The performance of the Benefit Section is monitored externally by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The section has to make quarterly returns to the DWP detailing the performance results for the previous quarter. These results are published by the DWP and form 4 of the Best Value indicators for the Authority.

3. The most important of these indicators for both the section and our customers is the speed by which their new claims or reported changes are processed and put into payment. The processing speed is measured in days from the receipt of a new claim, or report of a change, to the day that the piece of work is completed. The target for the section is to achieve Upper Quartile performance. In the current year that relates to the processing of new claims in 31days or less and changes in circumstance in 7 days or less.

4. The performance of the section from April 2003 has not been at the Upper Quartile levels, but since the implementation of the recovery plan in March 2004 is set to achieve that goal.

5. Factors affecting performance during 2003/2004 were absence of a permanent Benefits Manager, processing staff vacancies and processing delays as a result of the migration of the Benefits processing computer software.

6. In addition to these internal factors, major legislation changes occurred that impacted on the way in which Housing and Council Tax Benefit had to be calculated. (Please see paragraph 8 for more details). Current performance for the processing of new claims is 34.32 days for October 2004 and 5.68 days for changes processed in that month. As can be seen, the performance for processing changes is already upper quartile, which places Waverley’s performance in this area in the top 25% of Local Authorities nationally. Please see Annexes 2 and 3 for further details of performance from April 2003 to date.

7. The significant drop in performance from April 2004 to June 2004 was as a direct result of work done to eliminate the backlog of claims that had been present throughout 2003/2004. Now that the volume of outstanding work is at less than one weeks post receipts and in terms of date profile less than 14 days old, there are currently no outstanding factors that will adversely affect the current performance improvements. The elimination of this backlog has contributed to the increase in the customer caseload as many new claims were contained in that outstanding work. Please see Annexe 4 for details of the levels of outstanding work.

Legislation Changes and their impact

8. The current Government has enacted major legislative changes during the past 20 months that have impacted on the work of the Benefits Section. The most significant of these changes has been the introduction of Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Pension Credit. The Tax Credit changes were introduced from April 2003 and due to the delays in processing by the Inland Revenue and by the complex nature of the interaction of Tax Credit awards with Housing and Council Tax Benefit entitlement caused major delays in the processing of claims. These problems are now significantly reduced for the section, as we now have the experience, knowledge and computer system to deal with the information we receive, but many customers remain confused as to how and why Housing and Council Tax Benefit is affected by changes in their Tax Credit awards.

9. Pension Credit was introduced from October 2003. Whilst this scheme undoubtedly helps those pensioners on lower incomes, it too caused additional work for the Benefits Section. This additional work did add to delays in the processing of claims, but all outstanding work relating to Pension Credit claims has now been cleared. The Benefits Section continues to work closely with the Pensions Service to ensure that all those pensioners entitled to Pension Credit and Housing and Council Tax Benefit receive that help and to ensure that the customer receives a “One Stop Shop” approach, removing the need to deal with both departments. Further joint working continues in this area with a bid for funding to the Pension Partnership. The bid has been approved by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and funding allocated for a calendar to be distributed free to pensioners giving a relevant monthly message about benefits, health, council tax etc. This joint bid was made with the Primary Care Trust, Age Concern, Guildford Borough Council and Surrey County Council.

10. In addition to this joint working, links with the local Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) have been strengthened at regular monthly liaison meetings. Regular information sharing takes place and improvements in service have resulted, such as the introduction of a referral form for use in the Revenues Section. This form allows Revenue staff to refer clients in need of advice from the CAB to them ensuring no Data Protection rules are breached.

11. Joint working has not been solely with external organisations. A “fast track” scheme for customers contacting the Housing Advice Section, who work to prevent people becoming homeless, has been agreed and is working well. Already one firm of letting agents who previously would not take clients reliant on Housing Benefit because of delays and uncertainty has changed its policy. An excellent result for both the Housing Advice and Benefit Sections.

12. Further joint working with the Housing Advice Section has resulted in the production of the leaflet, “How to find somewhere to rent”. This booklet is intended to help people looking to rent in the private sector and includes details of the Housing Benefit scheme.

13. Close working with the Housing Rent management team based in Farnham has also been achieved. The rents team now has direct access to Housing and Council Tax Benefit computer records and are able to collect and verify information from customers there by speeding up the claim process and providing a joined up service.

Fraud and Error Changes

14. Changes in legislation were also introduced in the way in which the detection of fraud and error are rewarded by the DWP. April 2004 saw the introduction of interventions and changes in the reward mechanisms.

15. Interventions, or targeted risk based visiting, replaces the need for customers to complete a new claim form each year. Waverley has a current target to visit 40% of its caseload within this financial year. If as a result of our visit the level of benefit paid reduces then a cash reward is paid to Waverley by the DWP dependant of the level of weekly fraud found. Current reward levels per claim part are:-

Weekly Error £4.99 or less Reward £Nil
Weekly Error £5.00 to £20.00 Reward £10.00
Weekly Error £20.01 or above Reward £40.00

16. No reward is paid if the customer reports the change in their circumstances.

17. In order to ensure that the intervention target is met, one assessment officer post has been re-designated as a visiting officer post. Recruitment difficulties have meant that this post will not be filled until 22nd November 2004.

The Future

18. Despite, or indeed as a result of having to manage constant imposed change the Benefit Section continues to look forward and strive to find ways of improving the service it provides.

19. The payment of our current customers who receive cheques from us will be replaced by Bank Automated Clearing System (BACS) payments in June 2005. This will ensure quicker and more secure receipt of payments for our customers, most of whom already have bank accounts as they are currently paid by crossed cheque, so will not be inconvenienced by the change. Waverley will benefit by reducing cost of payment and contributing to the E-Government delivery target.

20. Ensuring all those residents in Waverley who are entitled to help receive it is a key service promise. As work in this area continues for pensioners we are to target those residents on low or part time earnings who may not be aware that they can claim. In order to ensure maximum coverage local large employers will be targeted together with a poster campaign in locality officers, libraries, and hopefully schools.

21. Supporting this take up work is work that is ongoing to ensure that the information we provide to our residents about the benefits scheme is available relevant and understandable. A series of 4 leaflets are being produced to cover the main areas of the scheme. They are: -

· What is Housing Benefit?
· What is Council Tax Benefit?
· Other Adults in my home?
· Help with rent on two homes?

22. Whilst corporate standards for customer service exist these are being supplemented by service specific standards for the areas of service provided by the Benefits Section. The standards will ensure that the customer is clear on what they can expect, when it will be delivered and how.

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee

23. The Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee wished to congratulate the Benefits Section on their excellent performance and to recognise the success achieved to date.

Conclusion

24. The section is aiming to maintain and improve upon the current performance ensuring upper quartile performance in all areas. The successful implementation of the improvement plans will ensure that Waverley Benefits will become a beacon of excellence for service delivery in Surrey.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the improvements in service delivery and performance achieved thus far and the plans for further service improvements be noted.

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Background Papers (DoF)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

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CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Robert Fox Telephone: 01483 523021
E-mail: rfox@waverley.gov.uk

Comms/exec/2004-05/310