The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service submitted an annual update report in relation to the following areas:
· Performance reporting
· Other challenges
· Budget outturn
The Head of the Shared Service advised that there had been a 1% reduction in workload. The peak times were January to March and Officers had received 120,000 individual items of correspondence in 2018/19. Members were advised that the level of Housing Benefit claimed in subsidy had reached £63.7m in 2018/19.
The Head of the Shared Service detailed a number of overpayment scenarios and detailed the level of debt in each local Authority area. She stated that debt recovery took place over a long period of time and was a very resource intensive operation. Members were advised that Stevenage Borough Council was recovering more debt than was being created and East Herts Council was nearly there in that respect.
The Head of the Shared Service emphasised that the amount of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) grants received each year changed based on the priorities that the DWP considered needed supporting. There is no restriction on how much of the total grant was spent on each of these priorities.
The Shared Service Manager (Benefits) referred to the increase in cases from October 2018 to March 2019. She stressed that each case was considered on its merits taking into account matters such as children or complex disabilities.
The Head of the Shared Service commented that demand always outweighed the available DHP grants. She also advised Members that the housing benefit caseload was reducing and the caseload for Council Tax support had also reduced subject to a number of variations.
Members were advised of the difficulties surrounding the collection of arrears in that agreed sustainable payment plans often did not prove to have longevity in many cases. The Head of the Shared Service commented on the abbreviations in respect of data matching as detailed in paragraph 2.3.2 of the report submitted. She stated that Officers had a good working relationship with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
The Head of the Shared Service referred in detail to a number of tables of performance data in the report and stated that it had been a fantastic year for the business rates team. She referred in particular to business rates liabilities and reliefs, mandatory reliefs granted and reductions in prior year areas.
The Head of the Shared Service commented on the Business Improvement District (BID) for Bishop’s Stortford as being an intensive activity that had proved to be a steep learning curve which would assist with future BIDS. Members were advised on progress in respect of digital solutions and also in respect of the time consuming impact on the service of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
The Head of the Shared Service referred to the very satisfying results of the internal and external Audits. The Stevenage Borough Council Assistant Director of Finance thanked the team for what had been a very productive and good year.
The Committee received the report.
RESOLVED – that the report be received.