Housing and Strategic Planning Cabinet Member – minutes – 22 April 2009
32 (17) BENEFITS SECTION – IMPACTS OF CURRENT ECONOMIC SITUATION – The Service Director Finance submitted a report informing the Cabinet Member of the additional workload taking place in the benefits section due to the recession, and the action being taken within the service.
The current economic situation was starting to have an impact in the local area. Recent figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for the North East Yorkshire and Humber District showed that the number of claimants for job seekers allowance for the period April to January had increased on average 65.04% compared to last year. However, in respect of Barton and Scunthorpe job centres the figures are higher than average at 89.39% and 81.36% respectively. This was obviously having an impact on the benefits service.
The report gave details of further pressures on the benefits section, along with action being taken to cope with the additional workload, and demands on the service.
Resolved – (a) That the report be noted, and (b) that efforts being made in the benefits service to meet the increasing demands on the service be endorsed.
Prior to 1 April 2008 inspection of benefits services was the responsibility of the Benefits Fraud Inspectorate (BFI). Inspections were undertaken based on various factors including performance and costs.
The council never received an inspection by the BFI, however, performance of the service was subject to an annual assessment, which was submitted to the BFI and was considered as an important part of the council’s over Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA). The service had consistently scored the maximum score of 4 (excellent).
From 1 April 2008, the BFI was abolished and responsibility for benefits inspection was transferred to the Audit Commission. From 1 April 2009 benefits was no longer considered a major part of the new CPA.
The audit commission had stated that the benefits service of approximately 35 councils each year would be inspected. Choice for inspection would be based on a number of factors. The report gave full details of the inspection process.
In view of a possible inspection the benefits section had undertaken a basic self-assessment, which had identified areas capable of improvement. Based on the self-assessment, an action plan had been produced, which was appended to the report.
Resolved – (a) That the report be noted, (b) that the action plan be approved, and (c) that a quarterly progress report on the action plan be submitted to the Cabinet Member.
The council amended its Home Improvement Policy in December 2008 to reflect the higher demand for disabled facilities grants and the availability of additional funding for home improvements from the Regional Homes and Loans Service (RHLS).
Since December 2008, a procurement exercise for the main types of disabled facilities grant works had been completed. A preferred supplier for all four categories of work advertised had been identified, in addition to significant cost savings, this framework arrangement should improve the quality of work undertaken whilst reducing the delay in completing work.
In March a compact (service level agreement) was drawn up with the RHLS to establish the level of funding available to North Lincolnshire for the next two years. This would be the main form of housing assistance for home improvements. Hardship assistance would be limited to those households who were not eligible for RHLS or other forms of loan assistance, and whose property was in such serious disrepair as to affect their health and safety. Loan applications were already being made.
The council was now in a position to agree the allocation of resources to various forms of housing assistance to be made available to householders in North Lincolnshire during the current financial year.
Resolved – That the allocation of resources for the Home Improvement Policy, as set out in paragraph 3.1 of the report, be approved.