Purpose of Report
To provide the Joint Committee with an update on the activity undertaken and the outcomes achieved by the Welfare Advisers in the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service.
That the report be noted.
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
Reason for Decision
The Welfare Team offered two distinct but closley linked services, noted as benefits advice and money advice. The benefits advice service offered a help-desk facility during Council opening times and was effectively a duty officer who was available to answer customers’ enquiries, book appointments and home visits, calculate individual entitlement to means-tested benefits and see drop-in customers if necessary. The money advice side of the service was operated under the administrative auspices of Community Money Advice and was regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority which required that there was a clear and distinct separation between the line management of staff who were responsible for the collection of income. As a result of this requirement the Welfare Team reported to the Customer Services Manager at the City of Lincoln Council.
The report provided an overview of the 2018/19 financial year which highlighted that the team had dealt with 7,326 customers for benefit related queries. This was a marked increase of the previous 12 months when the total was 5,484.
In the year 2018/19 the team issued a total of 505 food vouchers for local community larders and food banks and, in line with the national trend, this was a big increase on the previous year’s total of 306.
Additional benefits claimed by customers who had sought the advice and assistance of the Welfare Team were set out in paragraph 4.5 of the report and the total value of additional income paid over 52 weeks for both districts in the Shared Service equated to a weekly value of £3,302,533 compared to £2,988,383.84 in the previous financial year.
In addition to the weekly amounts of benefit awarded to individuals, in many cases customers had backdated awards or lump-sum payments, which were outlined in paragraph 4.7 of the report. This equated to £383,570.97 for 2018/19 compared to £393,742.98 in the previous year.
In terms of money advice casework, in 2018/19 the team received 263 referrals for money advice, compared to 272 in the previous year. This slight reduction may be explained by the budgeting supported offered to some clients as part of the Universal Credit Support Project Team. The total debt managed for 2018/19 equated to £979,815.72 for the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven. The previous year’s total debt for both areas was £1,323,356.87. The Chair requested a further breakdown split between private tenants and council tenants for each local authority area. It was agreed that this information would be included in future reports to the Joint Committee.
The team worked on the basis of agile working, which provided flexibility and meant that a lot of work was done in customers’ homes. Due to the urban character of Lincoln compared to the rural nature of North Kesteven, more home visits were undertaken in a day in Lincoln than they were in North Kesteven. It was reported that this was working very well. A question was raised as to whether pop-up sessions could be held in other areas across North Kesteven which people could then attend should they have difficulties visting the office in Sleaford. It was reported that pop-up sessions had been held previously in areas such as Metheringham, but unfortunately people very rarely attended them. It was therefore agreed that the offer of home visits was a more effective way of providing support to those who required it.
A question was raised as to whether any support by way of accompaniment or representation was provided to customers should they be required to attend a hearing as a result of an appeal. It was reported that the team would provide assistance with the completion and submission of paperwork, however, it did not have the resources to be able to accompany or represent people at appeal hearings. This was something that Citizens Advice was sometimes able to offer, although it was acknowledged that Citizens Advice also had limited resources.