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 on the following aspects of the Shared Service (data contained within Appendix A):
The table at paragraph 4.2 of the report showed the in-year collection period for the current financial year 2019/20 up to the end of Quarter 2, compared to the same point in 2018/19.
As at the end of Quarter 2 2019/20, Council Tax in-year collection was up by 0.07% for the City of Lincoln and down by 0.35% for North Kesteven, respectively. For the City of Lincoln, not only was collection marginally higher than in the year prior (by 0.07% equivalent to £31,429), but the net collectable debit had also increased by £2,955,109. With regard to North Kesteven, the reduced collection rate equated to £230,952, however, the net collectable debit had increased by £4,685,501 and total net receipt had increased by £2,471,812. In-year collection was down by 0.49% at the end of August 2019 (equivalent to a reduction of £323,221) – which showed the improvement in September 2019. There had been an additional 573 properties added to the taxbase compared to April 2018.
Committee were further updated that at the end of October2019, Council Tax in-year collection was down for the City of Lincoln and North Kesteven, respectively, although not by a huge amount. Officers were not massively concerned, although keeping a watching brief. There had been a drop off in council tax support applications, the authority was carrying out a publicity campaign in this respect together with putting letters in council tax reminders.
The table at paragraph 4.5 of the report showed the Business Rates in-year collection period for the current financial year 2019/20 up to the end of Quarter 2 2019/20, compared to the same point in 2018/19.
As at the end of Quarter 2 2019/20, Business Rates in-year collection was down by 0.99% for the City of Lincoln, and down by 0.31% for North Kesteven, however up by 0.41% for West Lindsey. For the City of Lincoln the reduced collection rate of 0.99% equated to £446,555 of the net collectable debit, with total net liability having increased by £60,882 and total net receipt having decreased by £411,427. In-year collection was down by 1.61% at the end of August 2019 (equivalent to a reduction of £784,462) – which demonstrated improvement in September 2019.
With regard to North Kesteven the decreased collection rate of 0.31% equated to £87,633 of the net collectable debit, with total net liability having increased by £808,072 and total net receipt had decreased by £367,226. For West Lindsey the increased collection rate of 0.41% equated to £73,424 of the net collectable debit, with total net liability having increased by £286,462 and total net receipt also increased by £241,829.
Committee were further updated that at the end of October 2019, Business Rates in-year collection remained down for North Kesteven and up for West Lindsey. Business Rates in-year collection was down by 1.78% for the City of Lincoln. There had been a number of re-set instalment plans/backdated rateable values and changes in ownership of businesses, together with a number of business rates not being due until December 2019 instalments, which attributed to this position. Also, a write-outs/ irrecoverable debts report was due to be presented to Executive this evening.
Outstanding Revenues Customers
The table at paragraph 4.8 of the report showed how many items of revenues customers’ correspondence was outstanding up to the end of Quarter 2 2019/20, compared to the same point in 2018/19, together with the position at the end of Quarter 2 2019/20 and the year outturn 2018/19.
Although outstanding numbers had increased by a total of 816 from the end of Quarter 1 2019/20 and by 606 compared to Quarter 2 2018/19, the team was now in a strong position to move forward. As previously advised to this committee work had commenced, and was still taking place earlier in the financial year now, largely due to one of the e-forms developed which collected data sooner and in a more efficient manner. Also, vacant staff positions had now been filled which would have a positive impact over the second half of the financial year.
Improvements in the student verification process working in partnership with the Council Tax Administration Team and City of Lincoln Business Development Team were outlined at paragraph 4.9 to 4.10 of the report which had a significantly positive impact this year.
Committee were further updated that at the end of October 2019, outstanding revenues customers’ correspondence figures were down to 969 for the City of Lincoln (from 1,177 at end of quarter 2) and to 502 for North Kesteven District Council (from 571 at end of quarter 2). Four new members of staff had been in post since November 2019 which had helped. The e-form verification of University of Lincoln students was down from 4,900 forms to only 400 still to be checked which was positive. It was expected also to see a further decrease as we progressed through the year.
Housing Benefit Overpayments
The table at paragraph 4.12 of the report showed outstanding Housing Benefit debt up to the end of Quarter 2 2019/20 compared to the same point in 2018/19, together with the position at the end of 2018/19.
In terms of ‘in-period’ collection of Housing Benefit Overpayments – i.e. the £ collected as a percentage of the £ raised was shown at the table at paragraph 4.13 d.
Therefore, collection of Housing Benefit overpayments continued to be positive, with proactive arrangements in place. Officers had also written an article for a professional publication (IRRV Benefit magazine
regarding the piece of work with Department for Work and Pensions to improve overpayments processes and performance, which had taken place over the last eighteen month. It was anticipated this article would appear in the December 2019 edition of this publication, which was really positive for our shared service and our commitment to both improving performance and to partnership working.
Committee were further updated that at the end of October 2019 collection of Housing Benefit overpayments continued to be positive.
The table at paragraph 5.1 of the report showed the number of outstanding benefits customers awaiting assessment up to the end Quarter 2 2019, compared to the same point in 2018/19 and the final position at the end of 2018/19.
The proactive action plan in place to reduce outstanding work levels continued to work effectively although it was recognised that the level has increased by a total of 267 from the end of Quarter 1 to the end of Quarter 2 2019/20 – however it was 769 lower than at the end of Quarter 2 2018/19. Increased leave over the summer period had impacted on performance, however this continued to be tackled positively
In terms of Housing Benefit average processing times, the table at paragraph 5.2 of the report showed figures for new claims and changes in circumstances. Performance for all measures was now looking positive moving forward. Processes had been, and continued to be reviewed and it was envisaged that new claims performance could improve further as the financial year progressed.
Universal Credit (UC) continued to have an impact on processing times due to the number of Universal Credit related documents requiring processing. Our Benefits Service now had a reduced number of Housing Benefit (HB) new claims to process (as some customers moved on to UC) and some of those claims that we did receive related to exempt/supported accommodation which could often take longer to gather information and process. Effectively the ‘baseline’ for assessing HB claims compared to ‘pre-UC’ rollout had potentially increased.
Positively in terms of ‘direction of travel’ in the week ending 6 October 2019, new claims were processed in an average of 19 and 18 days for City of Lincoln and North Kesteven respectively.
Prompt processing of claims remained vital, but of equal importance was accuracy of processing. The table at paragraph 5.3 of the report set out the outcome of claims checked under the quality checking regime since the formation of the Shared Service. The level of performance continued to improve and was being maintained which was particularly pleasing in light of the rollout of Universal Credit making some assessments more complex. There had continued to be a concentration on checking claims more likely to be assessed incorrectly first time. It was reported that even £0.01p was counted as financially incorrect and in addition to these targeted checks, more checks were also carried out as part of the rolling annual subsidy claim checking regime.
Committee were further updated that at the end of October 2019 there was now a downward trend moving forward working to a two week cycle for payments, with new claims being processed in an average 22 days for City of Lincoln and 20 for North Kesteven. The position had further improved as at the end of last week with claims being processed in 15 days for the City of Lincoln and 16 days for North Kesteven.