Purpose of Report
To provide the Joint Committee with an update on performance in the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service.
That the report be noted.
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
Reason for Decision
Positive council tax in-year collections had been achieved for 2017/18, with the table at paragraph 4.2 of the report outlining how performance had progressed since the shared service formed in June 2011. Members agreed that this was extremely positive given the ongoing welfare reforms, the general economic climate and taking into account that Universal Credit Full Service went live on 7 March 2018. It was noted that North Kesteven’s collection rate was ranked seventh out of 326 billing authorities.
Officers had also undertaken comparisons of collection rate to deprivation statistics and rankings which indicated a strong connection between the two sets of figures. It was possible to set a line of best fit using an exponential function which suggested that the City of Lincoln was collecting 1.6% more council tax per year than could reasonably be expected and gave a ranking outcome of 20th.
Comparing quarter one 2018/19 to 2017/18, the City of Lincoln was above by 0.09% and North Kesteven below by 0.07%.
When considering the current collection levels, it was noted that the collectible debit for both the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven had increased from 2017/18 by £2.3 million and £3.6 million respectively.
In terms of the position as at the end of July 2018, the City of Lincoln was 0.01% below 2017/18 at 35.63% and North Kesteven was the same as 2017/18 at 39.34%.
As with council tax, positive business rates in-year collection had been achieved for 2017/18, with the table outlined in paragraph 4.7 of the report showing how performance had progressed since the shared service formed in June 2011.
When comparing quarter one 2018/19 to 2017/18, the City of Lincoln was up by 0.03%, North Kesteven was up by 3.61% and West Lindsey was down by 0.54%.
Whilst collection for West Lindsey was below as at quarter one, there had been significant improvements during the first quarter of 2018/19. Collection was 2.44% down at 30 April 2018 compared to the same point in 2017/18.
With an increased collection rate of 35.86% for Lincoln and 45.03% for North Kesteven, it should be noted that the total net receipt had also increased from 2017/18 by £1.5 million and £1.2 million respectively.
The tables at paragraph 4.9 of the report set out net collectible debit and total net receipt compared for each authority between 2018/19 and 2017/18.
In terms of the new financial year, as at the end of August 2018 business rates in-year collection compared to the same period in the previous year was noted as follows:
· City of Lincoln – 0.74% below;
· North Kesteven – 4.31% above;
· West Lindsey – 0.41% above.
Business Improvement District Levy Collection 2017/18
The Business Improvement District financial year ran from July to June and the figures set out in paragraph 4.12 of the report represented collection up to the end of June 2018.
The 2017/18 net collectable debit raised in respect of the Levy was £391,728.
Outstanding Revenues Customers
The number of outstanding revenues customers as at the end of quarter one in 2018/19 showed an increase since 31 March 2018. This was due to the reduced numbers of staffing within the team due to unforeseen circumstances. It was reported that this position would be improved in-year due to the resolution of the staffing issues and the continued implementation of changes to current processes through the introduction of new electronic/self-service forms.
It was noted that performance was similar to quarter one in 2017/18, as set out in the table at paragraph 4.14 of the report. As at the end of July 2018 there were 766 outstanding revenues customers for the City of Lincoln and 376 for North Kesteven. Whilst this had increased since the end of quarter one, it was acknowledged that the rate of increase was not as high as in previous months.
Housing Benefit Overpayments
In-period collection as at July 2018 stood at 109.55% for the City of Lincoln and 125.83% for North Kesteven, meaning that more monies had been recovered than raised. This was as a result of the work being undertaken by the Housing Benefit Overpayment Recovery Team.
As well as in-period housing benefit overpayments, collection figures remained positive. As demonstrated in the table at paragraph 4.17 of the report, the level of outstanding overpayments was starting to reduce which was also due to the work of the Housing Benefit Overpayment Recovery Team during this first quarter. The table at paragraph 4.19 outlined how this position had developed over the last five financial years, with updated figures for the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven reported at the meeting as follows:
· City of Lincoln - £4,098,295;
· North Kesteven - £1,739,460.
In terms of staffing, it was reported that the 28 original fulltime equivalent Housing Benefit Assessors had reduced over a number of years, with the current provision consisting of 15.5 full time equivalents working on core housing benefit assessment work.
The table set out in paragraph 5.1 of the report showed the number of outstanding benefits customers awaiting assessment at the end of each financial year since the formation of the shared service.
The rollout of Universal Credit Full Service had resulted in a significant impact on the processing performance, with the section receiving just under 9,000 documents related to Universal Credit since 1 April 2018. Each of these documents required assessment, with Benefits Officers required to review the document and make a decision as to the assessment required.
In order to address this, overtime had been offered to staff to improve the processing position. Overtime had been undertaken which had improved performance, however for Lincoln claims the level of outstanding work had so far remained unlikely to reduce significantly due to a large volume of work being received due to Universal Credit.
Discussion ensued on staffing levels and the potential use of consultancy staff, appreciating the overtime that officers had undertaken but acknowledging that there were limits as to how much overtime people could do. The Head of the Shared Service was in discussion with Team Leaders in respect of this issue and would investigate the options further, taking into account that there should be sufficient resources available as a result of projected underspends but that the solution had to be a sustainable one too.
Updated figures were reported in respect of benefits customers outstanding figures, split by those who were already in progress against those which had not yet started to be processed. For the City of Lincoln 303 customers had been contacted, with 1,382 not yet contacted whereas for North Kesteven 258 customers had been contacted and 135 had not yet been contacted.
Further details regarding average housing benefit processing times were set out in the table at paragraph 5.4 of the report which showed figures for new claims and changes of circumstance for the last five financial years.
Outcomes of claims checked under the service’s quality checking regime were set out in the table at paragraph 5.5 of the report, with updated figures for the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven reported at the meeting as follows:
· City of Lincoln – 85.87%;
· North Kesteven – 95.88%.
The Chair commended the work of the Universal Credit Support Team following a visit he had made last week. He said that it was a magnificent team and that he was most impressed with the work they were doing.