Agenda and draft minutes

Shared Revenues and Benefits Joint Committee
Tuesday, 19th February 2019 2.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room, North Kesteven District Council Offices. View directions

Contact: Graham Watts, Democratic Team Leader and Elections Manager  (01522 873439)

Items
No. Item

26.

Confirmation of Minutes - 27 November 2018 pdf icon PDF 118 KB

Minutes:

RESOLVED that the minutes of the meeting held on 27 November 2018 be confirmed.

27.

Declarations of Interest

Please note that, in accordance with the Members' Code of Conduct, when declaring interests members must disclose the existence and nature of the interest, and whether it is a disclosable pecuniary interest (DPI) or personal and/or pecuniary.

Minutes:

Councillor John Money wished it to be noted that his wife currently benefitted from a reduction in her Council Tax. This was not considered to necesitate a declaration of interest.

28.

Performance Update pdf icon PDF 202 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Purpose of Report

 

To provide the Joint Committee with an update on performance in the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service.

 

Decision

 

That the report be noted.

 

Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

 

None.

 

Reason for Decision

 

The following updates were noted:

 

Council Tax

 

Comparing Council Tax in-year collection for quarter three 2018/19 to quarter three 2017/18, the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven were lower by 0.30% and 0.33% respectively. For the City of Lincoln at the end of January 2019 this was slightly lower and was 0.90% down. It was noted that the collectable debit for both the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven had increased from 2017/18 by £2.6 million and £3.8 million respectively.

 

In terms of the position as at the end of October 2018 compared to the position at the end of October 2017, the City of Lincoln was 0.32% lower and North Kesteven 0.22 lower. The single person discount review, which took place earlier in the year, had an impact in terms of raising the amount of revenue to be collected but it was hoped that this would be collected in-year wherever possible.

 

Business Rates

 

Comparing quarter three 2018/19 to 2017/18, the City of Lincoln was down by 0.20%, North Kesteven was down by 0.21% and West Lindsey was up by 0.90%. Although the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven were both below last year’s quarter three position, the shortfall had improved from the end of quarter two by 0.12% for the City of Lincoln and 0.01% for North Kesteven. Lincoln’s position at the end of January 2019 was a reduction of 0.26%. It was noted that the total net receipt had increased from 2017/18 by £1 million for the City of Lincoln, £919,000 for North Kesteven and £693,000 for West Lindsey.

 

Tables were set out in the report at paragraph 4.8 which showed how net collectable and total net receipt compared for each local authority between 2018/19 and 2017/18.

 

Lincoln Business Improvement District Levy Collection

 

The Business Improvement District financial year ran from 1 July to 30 June and the figures set out in the report at paragraph 4.10 represented collection up to the end of quarter three 2018/19. A comparison of in-year collection rates between Business Improvement District financial years showed a decrease in collection, however, this had reduced from 1.27% down at the end of quarter two 2018/19 to 0.33% down at the end of quarter three. Direction of travel was therefore positive and officers would continue to manage performance closely.

 

Outstanding Revenues Customers

 

The number of outstanding revenues customers as at the end of quarter three 2018/19 showed an increase since 31 March 2018, however, there had been a significant reduction from 1,138 to 641 which equated to a 44% reduction. The position had increased due to a single person discount review and subsequent enquiries, together with the introduction of Council Tax e-forms resulting in processes becoming more efficient.

 

The table at paragraph 4.12 of the report set out comparisons for  ...  view the full minutes text for item 28.

29.

Business Rates Update pdf icon PDF 415 KB

Minutes:

Purpose of Report

 

To provide the Joint Committee with an update on current issues within non-domestic rates.


Decision

 

That the report be noted.

 

Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

 

None.

 

Reason for Decision

 

The following updates were noted:

 

Supporting Small Business Relief Scheme – 2017/18 to 2020/21

 

Total awards as at 30 June 2018 for the City of Lincoln, North Kesteven and West Lindsey equated to £6,473, £23,684 and £19,926 respectively. For both the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven there had been a reduction of one hereditament since the last meeting of this Committee, which was due to an increase in the rate value for these properties.

 

Support for Pubs Scheme – 2017/18 to 2018/19

 

Total awards as at 30 June 2018 for the City of Lincoln, North Kesteven and West Lindsey equated to £23,975, £28,371 and £26,118 respectively. There had been no change in the number of awards since the last meeting of this Committee.

 

Discretionary Relief Scheme

 

During quarter one of 2018/19 officers had undertaken a number of exercises to correctly identify those ratepayers that may be entitled to relief and calculated the cost of relief for all businesses affected by the revaluation, whereby the 2018/19 charge had increased as a result. Since 2017/18, the number of accounts identified for all three districts had decreased and, as a result, the value of relief awarded was as follows:

 

·         City of Lincoln – this was a banded scheme. The award had remained the same for all bands, with the exception of those facing an increase between £25 and £500. The relief to be awarded for 2018/19 had increased from 50% to 70%, providing additional support to those ratepayers;

·         North Kesteven – this was a banded scheme. The award had remained the same for the first two bands but all others had reduced to 80% of the 2017/18 award;

·         West Lindsey – this was a percentage reduction scheme, with all identified ratepayers receiving a 50% reduction. This was a decrease from 2017/18 of 80%.

 

Review of 2018/19 Awards

 

A review of awarded relief took place during November and December 2018. As a result, the schemes had been adjusted to ensure all funding was awarded up to 30 September 2019. The schemes had therefore been amended, as follows:

 

·         City of Lincoln:

-       increased the 50% award to 72.5% for those in the second band of the scheme;

-       £85 to be awarded to all those in the third band of the scheme and above;

-       this would result in an additional award of £14,623.

·         North Kesteven:

-       £50 would be awarded to all those in the second band of the scheme;

-       £200 would be awarded to all those in the third band of the scheme and above;

-       this would result in an additional award of £25,900.

·         West Lindsey:

-       increased the relief from 50% to 58%;

-       this would result in an additional award of £10,075.

 

A comparison of the new Discretionary Relief Scheme for 2017/18 and 2018/19 was set  ...  view the full minutes text for item 29.

30.

Housing Benefit Overpayments Update pdf icon PDF 292 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Purpose of Report

 

To provide the Joint Committee with an update on the recovery of Housing Benefit overpayments

 

Decision

 

That the report be noted.

 

Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

 

None.

 

Reason for Decision

 

A copy of the latest version of the Housing Benefit Overpayment Recovery Action Plan was appended to the report, which had been produced as a result of the review undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions’ Performance Development Team. The Action Plan was used as a working document and provided the Housing Benefit Overpayment Team with a clear direction for the work which was being undertaken during the next nine months.

 

Paragraph 5.2 of the report outlined the specific actions already undertaken. The Action Plan continued to be monitored by the Revenues and Benefits Manager and formed part of meetings with the Benefit Team Leader and the Housing Benefit Overpayment Recovery Team.

 

As part of the formation of the Housing Benefit Overpayment Project, officers had reviewed all recovery methods available for all stages of debt. The stages were broken down as follows:

 

·         overpayments recovered from ongoing Housing Benefit;

·         overpayments at sundry debtors less than four months old;

·         overpayments at sundry debtors over four months old;

·         write off.

 

The table set out at paragraph 6.2 of the report showed the improvements for quarters one and two for 2018/19 for the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven since the project started in June 2018. Since the start of the project, the total overpayments outstanding had reduced by £568,399 which equated to £472,614 for the City of Lincoln and £157,355 for North Kesteven. The total amount currently outstanding was just under £3.8 million, which was within the target of £4 million.

 

A question was raised on the issue of overpayments and whether there was anything systematically that could be improved to prevent overpayments occurring. It was reported that the team was constantly reviewing how it dealt with information from customers and that as much information as possible received from the Department for Work and Pensions was automated so that no manual updates were necessary, cutting out any potential for errors to occur. There would always be an element of overpayment, however, as the service was reliant on being informed of changes in a customer’s circumstances either by the customer themselves or the Department for Work and Pensions, for example which did not always occur. In respect of Universal Credit customers, the Department for Work and Pensions was able to share information relating to changes in circumstances straightaway. Officers explained that, similarly, it would be useful to be able to use the HMRC link with Council Tax and localised Council Tax support claims. This could not be done presently although it was hoped that this would be implemented in the future to improve the accuracy of customer information relating to changes in circumstances.

31.

Welfare Reform and Universal Credit Update pdf icon PDF 248 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Purpose of Report

 

To provide the Joint Committee with an update regarding the national and local position of welfare reform, with a specific focus on Universal Credit.

 

Decision

 

That the report be noted.


Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

 

None.

 

Reason for Decision

 

Statistics in relation to the national progress of Universal Credit were set out in paragraph 4.1 of the report, with recent Universal Credit changes as a result of the Autumn 2018 budget announcement and January 2019 announcement also outlined in Appendix 1 attached to the report. 1.6 million households now received Universal Credit nationally, 560,000 of which were in employment.

 

The Welfare Reform and Project Officer had been working with the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven housing colleagues to monitor the impact Universal Credit claims were currently having on rent collection. As of 31 December 2018, 976 City of Lincoln tenants were in receipt of Universal Credit. 485 of these tenants were in arrears totalling £157,595.91, with 462 cases having decreased by £110,840.66 from the date of claim and 289 not in arrears or credit. Of the 124 North Kesteven tenants in receipt of Universal Credit as at 31 December 2018 there had been an increase in arrears for 100 tenants totalling £51,152.

 

The Universal Support Team continued to work on a rota basis and provide a range of support services as set out in paragraph 7.2 of the report. Team Leaders were currently reviewing how Universal Credit claims were processed and would be putting guidance together for all processing staff. This would clarify processes relating to the cessation of relevant Housing Benefit claims, processing Council Tax support and allocating overpayments to the correct recovery method.

 

Statistical information via the Universal Credit Dashboard was appended to the report, which provided key information relating to the team outputs together with regional and national updates as at the end of quarter two.

 

Progress with the Shared Service’s Welfare Reform Strategy Action Plan and Universal Credit Preparation Plan was set out in Appendix 4 of the report. The Action Plan was fluid and flexible to respond to changes in welfare reform in relation to priorities, changes and demands.

 

Discussion ensued on the decision that had been taken by Government to contract nationally with Citizens Advice to provide Universal Credit support services from 1 April 2019 as part of standardising the implementation of the benefit across the country. Since this decision had been announced in October 2018 officers from the Shared Service had been communicating with the Department for Work and Pensions and the local Citizens Advice offices in Lincoln and Sleaford. It was noted that the Universal Credit Support Service currently provided by the Shared Service worked very well and was undertaken on a holistic approach, regarding which one option could potentially be to continue in partnership with Citizens Advice in Lincoln, albeit with less funding. It was unclear at this stage, however, whether Citizens Advice could, in effect, sub-contract this back to the local authority.

 

With regard to Universal  ...  view the full minutes text for item 31.

32.

Revenues and Benefits - Quarter 3 2018/19 Monitoring pdf icon PDF 255 KB

Minutes:

Purpose of Report

 

To present the Joint Committee with the third quarter’s performance for the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service for 2018/19.

 

Decision

 

That the report be noted and the budget adjustments for 2018/19 as per paragraph 3.2 of the report be approved.

 

Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

 

None.

 

Reason for Decision

 

The approved budget for 2018/19 was agreed by the Revenues and Benefits Joint Committee on 20 February 2018 of £2,285,710 for the service, which had since been increased after receipt of New Grants Burdens. The budget had therefore subsequently been revised as set out in paragraph 3.2 of the report.

 

Financial performance for the third quarter of 2018/19 was detailed in Appendix 1 attached to the report, which reported that at quarter three there was an underspend against the approved budget of £78,316.

 

The forecast outturn for 2018/19 predicted that there would be an underspend against the approved budget of £165,248. A summary of the main forecast year-end variations against the approved budget for 2018/19 was outlined in Appendix 2 and included:

 

·         IT costs, salaries, New Burdens Grants and printing, postage and stationery associated with benefits;

·         IT costs, subscriptions and printing, postage and station associated with revenues local taxation.

 

A forecast underspend of £165,248 represented a variance of 7% against the total Shared Service budget. Subject to the final outturn position, it would be proposed that a significant proportion of the underspend be carried forward to 2019/20. In discussing how any monies carried forward could be utilised, members agreed that they could support the following:

 

·         continuation of the housing benefit overpayments project;

·         Universal Credit support;

·         continuation of delivery of Council Tax and Housing Benefit support services.

33.

Revenues and Benefits - Base Budget Forecast 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 59 KB

Minutes:

Purpose of Report

 

To present the Joint Committee with the base budget forecast for the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service for 2019/20.

 

Decision

 

That the base budget forecast for the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service for 2019/20 be approved.

 

Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

 

None.

 

Reason for Decision

 

The base budget forecast for the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service had been prepared and was attached to the report at Appendix 1.

 

A review of each line of the budget had taken place to ensure a fair representation of the activity of the service which had led to budgets being transferred between different shared service functions. Although each authority had a different percentage of each service, this had not led to either authority significantly paying more across the service as a whole. There had, however, been an increase each year in the base budget from last year’s budget due to costs for subscriptions and printing. In the most part these had been offset by reviewing all staff budgets and being more accurate on the budgeting of career graded posts which in the past had been budgeted to prudently. A full reconciliation to the previous base budget forecast was attached at Appendix 2 to the report.

 

Despite inflationary cost pressures, the base budget forecast for 2019/20 of £2.367 million was only £18,470 higher than the initial base budget set for 2012/13, demonstrating the on-going efficiencies being delivered by the Shared Service.