Draft minutes

East Herts Council and Stevenage Borough Council Joint Revenues and Benefits Committee
Tuesday 5th July, 2022 6.00 pm

Contact: Lisa Jerome  Tel: (01438) 242203 Email:  lisa.jerome@stevenage.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

Appointment of Chair

Minutes:

It was moved by Councillor Mrs Joan Lloyd and seconded by Councillor Jeannette Thomas that Councillor Geoffrey Williamson be appointed Chair for the meeting. After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.

2.

Apologies for Absence and Declarations of Interest

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Peter Boylan and Jan Goodeve.

 

There were no declarations of interest.

3.

Minutes - Joint Revs and Bens Executive Committee - 1 July 2021

Minutes:

It was RESOLVED that the minutes of the Joint Executive Revenues and Benefits Shared Service Committee meeting held on 1 July 2021 be approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair.

4.

Annual Update

Minutes:

The Committee received a report in relation to the performance of the Shared Service for the year 2021/22. The report outlined the challenges during the Covid19 pandemic and the budget outturn position for 2021/22.

 

 

The Head of Revenues and Benefits Shared Service updated Members on the following key issues:

 

·            Test and Trace programme was successful and helped certain groups of people who contracted Covid19 and had to isolate, which resulted in loss of their earnings.

·The scheme was difficult to administrator due to several factors including the customer’s expectation of entitlement.

·            The average processing times for Housing Benefits for new claims and changes in circumstances were 7.25 days for Stevenage and 7.15 days for East Herts. On average this was 2.4 days longer than 2020/21. A number of staff were involved in the Test and Trace programme which resulted in longer wait period for Housing Benefits applicants.

·            Members were advised that for the fifth year running the closing value of outstanding debts was reducing with 13.6% of Stevenage and 24.5% of East Herts were live claims.

·            The Discretionary Housing Payment grants funds received from the government had reduced since last year from £140m to £100m, however the demand from struggling families were not plummeting. Therefore, it created pressure and challenges for customers and officers alike.

·            The Housing Benefits caseload was reducing on a monthly basis predominantly because cases were transitioning to Universal Credit. The Housing Benefits caseload demonstrated an 11% reduction for 2021/22 for each Council.

·            The overall Council Tax Support caseload increased during 2020/21, as result of the Covid19 pandemic, but for 2021/22 the caseload for Stevenage reduced by 7.4%, and 8.7% for East Herts. Members were advised that both councils committed to raise awareness on Council Tax Support, as some people thought the Council Tax Support was included in their Universal Credit claim.

·            Verifications of Earnings and Pensions service supported by the Government’s anti-fraud agenda helped to get the information regarding customer’s change of circumstances quicker, which required to amend the customer’s claim.

·            The Government was shifting more people into Universal Credit. Customers experiencing a change in circumstances would also be transferred from Housing Benefits to Universal Credit.

·            The Council Tax service had supported the Business rates grants schemes since March 2020, and its core performance was impacted in this area. The Service was further impacted by the Government’s Energy Rebate Scheme delivered by the Service. It had to divert significant resources to manage the project.

·            Members were advised that considerable work went on to collect prior year arrears. Overall, the level of 2021/22 debt was reduced. The Service supported customers through the Covid19 pandemic by offering rescheduling payments, increased in flexibility and deferring arrangements.

·            Stevenage retained the premium for empty properties at 50%, and whilst East Herts increased to 100% for properties empty more than two years. Stevenage charged the premium on 89 properties and East Herts on 130.

·            The Service carried out an empty homes and single person discount review during the Covid19 pandemic to ensure  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

URGENT PART 1 BUSINESS

Minutes:

None.

6.

EXCLUSION OF PRESS AND PUBLIC

Minutes:

Not required.

7.

URGENT PART 2 BUSINESS

Minutes:

None.