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
The following updates were noted:
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.
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 the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven. As per the end of January 2019 the figures for the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven were reported as 209 and 116 respectively.
Housing Benefit Overpayments
Although in-period collection rates had slipped during quarter three due to an unforeseen staffing capacity reduction in this area, the overall position was still positive as outstanding housing benefit overpayment levels continued to reduce. This was outlined in the table at paragraph 4.15 of the report.
The table at 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. It was noted that for the City of Lincoln, although the customers awaiting assessment level was relatively high, this was due to the larger Housing Benefit caseload in comparison to North Kesteven.
The rollout of Universal Credit Full Service continued to have a significant impact on processing performance, with the Benefits Team receiving 18,823 Universal Credit documents since 1 April 2018 up to 25 January 2019. Each of these documents required assessment with Benefits Officers having to review the document and make a decision as to the assessment required. As a result, there had been a significant increase in documents needing to be assessed, particularly for the City of Lincoln due to Universal Credit being live at Lincoln Jobcentre Plus since March 2018.
The table set out in paragraph 5.2 of the report set out figures relating to outstanding benefits customers split by those who were already in progress against those which had not yet started to be processed. Out of the 1,209 customers outstanding and not yet contacted, 896 were Universal Credit documents. 722 of these related to the City of Lincoln, with 174 associated with North Kesteven. The latest figures were reported at the meeting, with there being a total of 1,158 outstanding in respect of the City of Lincoln with the oldest date being 29 January 2019 and 454 outstanding in respect of North Kesteven with the oldest date being 4 February 2019.
In terms of Housing Benefit average processing times, the table at paragraph 5.4 of the report showed the figures for new claims and changes of circumstance for the last five financial years. The figure for the City of Lincoln had slightly changed to 26.58 for the City of Lincoln from the end of January 2019. Changes of circumstance average processing times were relatively equal to the same point in 2017/18 and would improve further in quarter four, as was usual with a high number of ‘1 day’ processing items for the new financial year.
New claims performance for both local authorities had slipped in comparison to 2017/18, although the City of Lincoln’s average processing time had improved by 1.16 days from quarter two to quarter three 2018/19. Housing Benefit claims where a Universal Credit claim was being made as well was resulting in local authorities having to wait for the Universal Credit decision to be made, which was taking around six weeks on the Housing Benefit entitlement. This delay by the Department for Work and Pensions had contributed to the increase in processing times for new claims. It was noted that a rolling action plan was in place which sought to further improve performance in this area.
The table at paragraph 5.5 of the report set out the outcomes of claims checked under the service’s quality checking regime. The City of Lincoln’s percentage at the end of January 2019 had increased slightly to 87.21%. In 2018/19 to date 183 claims had been checked for the City of Lincoln with 158 being correct first time. For North Kesteven, 287 claims were checked with 274 being correct first time. As Universal Credit had been rolled out in Lincoln since March 2018, and Sleaford since November 2018, there had been concentration on checking these claims which were time consuming and more likely to contain initial errors due to the complexity of the cases. It was anticipated, however, that this would improve over time, with the City of Lincoln’s performance having already improved by 2.34% from quarter two to quarter three in 2018/19.
Members were pleased to see that e-forms were having a high impact on the processes and efficiency of the service.
During discussion regarding Universal Credit and roll out of Full Service at Sleaford, members appreciated that it was probably too early to analyse the impact on customers. Clarification was sought, however, as to whether everything was being rolled out according to plan. It was reported that there had been no significant implications and, as expected due to the smaller client group, the statistics for Sleaford in respect of Universal Credit customers had been much lower than Lincoln.