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
Updates were noted as follows:
Positive Council Tax in-year collection had been achieved for 2018/19 with the City of Lincoln achieving 96.76% and North Kesteven achieving 99.08%. Although Council Tax in-year collection levels had reduced slightly for both authorities, the City of Lincoln by 0.41% and North Kesteven by 0.12%, these were still positive outturns considering factors such as the economic climate, cumulative impacts of national welfare reforms and Council Tax Support Schemes. In addition, it should be noted that the net collectable debit for both City of Lincoln and North Kesteven increased from 2017/18 by £2.57 million and £3.75 million respectively. Paragraph 4.3 of the report showed an overview of performance since the commencement of the Shared Service in 2011/12.
As with Council Tax, positive Business Rates in-year collection had been achieved for 2018/19 with the City of Lincoln achieving 99.81%, North Kesteven 99.42% and West Lindsey 98.63%. Paragraph 4.4 of the report showed an overview of performance since the commencement of the Shared Service in 2011/12.
It was noted that the total net collectable debit had also increased from 2017/18 by £646,000 for the City of Lincoln, £928,000 for North Kesteven and £757,000 for West Lindsey.
It was noted that the service had received a 32% increase in monthly emails, a 13% increase in monthly telephone calls and a 27% increase in the monthly submission of e-forms since the previous financial year and represented a significant increase for staff.
Outstanding Revenues Customers
The number of outstanding revenues customers at the end of quarter four 2018/19 showed an overall increase from the last two financial years, however, this was still a positive position. The workload was up to date going into new year billing, however, an influx of documents during the billing period from early-mid March created the increased figure at the end of the financial year. Also, in the Council Tax base there were now an additional 1,051 properties to administer between the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven. Staffing resources on the Council Tax team being reduced at points throughout the year due to unforeseen circumstances had also been a key contributor. A table set out in paragraph 4.8 of the report set out performance for each year from 2012.
Although there had been a successful rollout of several e-forms in the revenues team, these had not yet resulted in a reduction of incoming work through other customer channels. Officers were carefully analysing demands across the shared service and resources required to maintain and improve performance.
Housing Benefit Overpayments
The table at paragraph 4.11 of the report showed in-period collection rates over the last seven financial years. The City of Lincoln achieved a rate of 100.38% in 2018/19 and North Kesteven achieved a rate of 107.45%.
The table at paragraph 5.1 showed the number of outstanding benefits customers awaiting assessment at the end of each financial year since the formation of the shared service.
The figure for the City of Lincoln was 897 in 2019 and the figure for North Kesteven was 502. Although the overall position was not quite as positive as at the end of the last two financial years, this was still a much improved position compared to other financial years. It was noted that the rollout of Universal Credit Full Service in Lincoln and Sleaford JobCentre Plus had placed significant increased processing demands on the benefits assessment team.
Information setting out housing benefit average processing times for new claims and changes in circumstances was set out at paragraph 5.2 of the report. Changes in circumstances performance remained positive, however, there had been slippage in new claims performance for both partner authorities. A number of factors associated with this slippage included:
· unforeseen reductions in staffing resources;
· delays in rent information being provided for a number of properties;
· the introduction of the ‘e-benefits’ self-serve application form;
· the clearing of older work which increased the overall average processing figures.
The latest statistics for the City of Lincoln up to April was 25.04 days, with North Kesteven achieving 25.28 days.
Universal Credit was having an impact on processing times due to the number of Universal Credit related documents requiring processing, as well as officers awaiting Universal Credit related decisions before putting housing benefit into payment in some cases. Officers had a proactive action plan in place aiming to improve processing times in 2019/20, a copy of which was appended to the report.
The accuracy of claims was an important factor and the table set out at paragraph 5.3 of the report outlined the outcomes of claims checked under the quality checking regime. The figure for the City of Lincoln was 86% and was 96% for North Kesteven. It was noted that even if a claim was only 1p out, this would be recorded as being incorrect. Figures for April were reported as 94% for the City of Lincoln and 100% for North Kesteven. Further clarity was requested in future reports to make it clear how many accuracy checks had actually been undertaken.
Discussion ensued on the commitment of both authorities towards a channel shift from traditional methods of communication to more electronic forms of communication and submission of documentation. Councillor Nikki Dillon expressed concerns in that some residents were not confident or comfortable using the internet to submit forms and in some instances would not have access to a computer or facility to enable them to submit information in this manner. It was reported that the welfare support team would support residents in the completion of this information over the telephone, for example, and submit the necessary paperwork on behalf of the customer. Councillor Dillon requested that copies of the benefit application forms be sent to her, which the Head of the Shared Service agreed to do.