Decision status: Information Only
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
Purpose of Report
To provide the Shared Revenues and Benefits Joint Committee with an update regarding various areas relating to the national welfare reform agenda, as well as current initiatives to support residents.
That the content of the report be noted, with a further update to be presented to the next meeting of Shared Revenues and Benefits Joint Committee
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
Reason for Decision
This report provided Shared Revenues and Benefits Joint Committee with an update on the national and local position of welfare reform/other initiatives, with a specific focus on Universal Credit, Test and Trace Support Payments, Discretionary Housing Payments, Household Support Fund, Council Tax Energy Rebate, and Financial Inclusion matters.
The national Welfare Reform agenda had resulted in a significant impact on residents of Lincoln and North Kesteven since 2013 when certain changes were introduced such as Removal of Spare Room Subsidy, and Benefit Cap; this had continued as further changes had been introduced, such as the ongoing rollout of Universal Credit. These changes had resulted in major changes to the operation of our shared service, to ensure a proactive and positive response to welfare reform and the impacts on residents.
The following updates were noted:
The latest national figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were released on 19 July2022, with statistics relevant to the period up to May 2022:
Local authority statistics also available:
On 25th April 2022, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made a statement in the House of Lords (regarding managed UC migration for working-age legacy benefits – with the aim of completing this migration by the end of 2024. Further information regarding the migration process was published on GOV.UK (Completing the move to Universal Credit - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)) and since then, an initial 500 cases in Bolton and Medway areas had been invited to migrate from legacy benefits to UC. Truro and Falmouth had been announced as the next two areas as part of the UC ‘discovery phase’.
There was currently no further detail as to the rollout schedule for other areas of the country, officers had made contact with DWP colleagues locally and nationally and would report back to this Committee with relevant updates at future meetings.
COVID-19 Test and Trace Support Payments
The Test and Trace Support Payments (TTSP) scheme (with mandatory and discretionary elements) had now ended (30th April 2022). The Welfare Reform Support Team was in receipt of all applications and had undertaken assessment decisions. The team also secured further funding from Lincolnshire County Council to make TTSP related payments utilising Winter Grant Scheme monies.
In total, the team received 4,918 applications for City of Lincoln, of which 2,091 had received a payment.
In total, the team received 2,668 applications for North Kesteven, of which 1,017 had received a payment.
Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)
City of Lincoln’s DHP government grant for 2022/23 was £129,643 and North Kesteven’s £85,166. The recent mid-year additional DHP grant announcement had increased both amounts marginally, therefore 2022/23 grants were now £132,330(Lincoln) and £86,931 (North Kesteven)
The number of DHP applications received and determined in Quarter 1 2022/23 was detailed at paragraph 6.2 of the officers report.
DHP spend for up to the end of Quarter 1 of the financial year 2022/23 amounted to £52,969 (40.03% of DHP Grant) for City of Lincoln and £37,982 (43.69% of DHP Grant) for North Kesteven.
Overall DHP funding for 2022/23 had been cut nationally from £140m to £100m. Consequently, grants for City of Lincoln and North Kesteven had also been reduced by more than 29% each.
In 2021/22, Government DHP grants were supplemented for both authorities through the Councils’ own funds, to keep paying eligible DHP claims. Longer term this was not sustainable, therefore much consideration had been undertaken in advance of 2022/23 in terms of how the reduced grant could help to assist those most in need of help with their housing costs.
DHP had become a longer-term form of help for some residents as their financial and housing situation each year had been as such to determine they remained entitled to DHP. However, DHP was generally only meant to be a short-term form of financial assistance.
In 2022/23, focus was now more towards shorter-term assistance through DHP, with availability and provision of appropriate debt/benefits advice and tenancy/housing options support for residents. Officers continued to monitor impacts and spend closely.
Household Support Fund
421 million was made available in 2021/22 for England to support those most in need over the winter period. At least 50% must be spent on families with children.This funding covered the period 6th October 2021 to 31st March 2022. £5,464,685.20, awarded to Lincolnshire County Council under Section 31 of the Local Government Act 2001 to administer the scheme and provide assistance to households most in need.
A Lincolnshire Districts’’ scheme was live from 1st December 2021 to the end March 2022. Our Revenues and Benefits Shared Service worked with a range of other organisations making referrals, delivering these Household Support Fund payments for City of Lincoln and North Kesteven.
For the months of December 2021-March 2022, £427,562 was awarded by City of Lincoln Council and £271,082 by North Kesteven.
As part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Spring Statement in March 2022, a second Household Support Fund was announced. Detail was subsequently provided in April 2022, with an equivalent amount of £5.4 again being allocated to Lincolnshire County Council. Funding criteria included a new requirement for at least 33.33% of payments to be allocated to those of pension age. The final stages of this scheme were currently being determined with a formal announcement on how payments were to be made expected shortly.
A third scheme to cover the period from October to March 2023 had also been announced, however, further detail was awaited.
Council Tax Energy Rebate
On 3rd February 2022, Central Government announced a package of support known as the Energy Bills Rebate to help households with rising energy bills, worth £9.1 billion in 2022-23 which included:
· A £150 non-repayable rebate for households in England in Council Tax bands A to D, known as the Council Tax Rebate, mandatory;
· £144 million of discretionary funding for billing authorities to support households in need but not eligible for the Council Tax Rebate, known as the Discretionary Fund.
Funding of £6,103,200 was awarded under the Non-Discretionary Scheme and £196,950 under the Discretionary Scheme for City of Lincoln Council. Funding of £6,747,150 was awarded under the Non-Discretionary Fund and £121,800 under the Discretionary Scheme for North Kesteven District Council.
Payments of the £150 Council Tax Rebate were being made automatically for Council Taxpayers who paid by Direct Debit, as current bank details were held for these residents. Following necessary ICT releases being made available then tested, payments started to be made in week-commencing 25th April 2022 to both local authorities. The vast majority of these cases had now been paid, unless there was no eligibility or households had not provided clarification details if required.
Where the Council Taxpayer did not pay by Direct Debit, officers had been contacting customers to obtain the relevant details. since the end of May 2022.
Due diligence was in place to check bank account arrangements, using such systems such as Spotlight (which had also been used for business grants).
All payments under the mandatory scheme must have been made by 30 September 2022.
As of 10 August 2022, 24,493 Council Tax Rebate payments had been made to City of Lincoln Council Taxpayers making payments by direct debit, 7,544 by non-direct debit and 240 paid into Council Tax accounts. 34,653 Council Tax Rebate payments had been made to North Kesteven District Council Taxpayers. making payments by direct debit, 5,140 by non-direct debit and 113 paid into Council Tax accounts.
All discretionary find payments must be made by 30 November 2022.
Financial inclusion continued to be a key objective and factor in many areas of LiNK’s work. The Lincolnshire Financial Inclusion Partnership (FIP) was currently chaired by the Head of Shared Revenues and Benefits for North Kesteven District Council and City of Lincoln Council, - which brought together organisations and partners to promote and raise the profile of financial inclusion across the county. FIP aimed to ensure that everyone had the capability and opportunity to access appropriate financial services and products needed to participate fully in society.
Publication date: 16/11/2022
Date of decision: 08/09/2022
Decided at meeting: 08/09/2022 - Shared Revenues and Benefits Joint Committee