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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources): 13th November 2012

 

Report of Head of Financial Services

 

Interim Report of Task and Finish Group on Welfare Reform

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To update members on the work undertaken by the Welfare Reform Task and Finish Group.

Recommendations

1.             That the report is noted

2.             That the actions of the Task and Finish Group in agreeing the Risk Analysis; Communications Plan and Action Plan are endorsed.

3.             That the report is referred to Cabinet.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1-3   To ensure that members are updated

Background

2.             The task and finish group has met on the following occasions

·               3rd September 2012

·               18th September 2012

·               19th October 2012

Relevant Issues and Options

3.             At its initial meeting on the 3rd September the group received a briefing on Welfare Reform and agreed the scope and terms of reference.

4.             At the meeting on the 18th September 2012, the group considered and approved the Risk Analysis in relation to Welfare Reform (attached at Appendix A). The risk analysis has been undertaken within the Council's corporate risk policy.  The generic risk of Welfare Reform has been broken down in to specific areas to target management and mitigation of them. The group agreed to this approach.  It was considered that the changes occurring in April 2013, for which the Council has a direct responsibility for delivery, had the highest priority rating.  These include the delivery of the Council Tax Support Scheme and the changes to the housing benefit relating to up-rating of the local housing allowance, the benefit cap and the benefit reduction for over accommodated tenants.  Changes to the Social Fund and Disability Living Allowance whilst important will not be the direct responsibility of the council but are likely to have implications for council services - particularly social services.   Preparation will also need to be made for future changes including the introduction of the Universal Credit form October 2013 and the changes to the Pension Credit from October 2014.   Whilst these would have implications for council services, particularly housing benefits and housing, the Department for Work and Pensions will be responsible for service delivery.

5.             The Group considered and approved a communications plan, which is attached at Appendix B.  The plan covers communications with claimants potentially affected, staff, services and other partner organisations. The plan is also divided into the key themes on welfare reform, in a similar way to the risk analysis. The group considered that a briefing would be beneficial to all members of the Council and this was held prior to the council meeting on 26th September 2012. 

6.             On the 5th October 2012 - the Local Service Board Forum was held. This was a one day seminar involving LSB partners.  Two sessions were held to provide general information of the welfare reforms and to consider some of the more detailed implications for claimants and how the LSB partners will be affected and how organisations may work together.  As a result, LSB partners and stakeholders were invited to contact the Corporate Partnerships Team. So that a stakeholder meeting / forum can be organised. It is proposed that this should take place on a date after the CAB seminar on 13th November 2012. It is proposed to invite stakeholders to attend the Task and Finish Group so that it can consider any evidence / issues raised by them.

7.             At the meeting on the 19th October 2012, the group considered the action plan, which is being developed by officers. Again the Action Plan has been broken down into the key themes of welfare reform, to assist with management of the changes.  The action plans for Council Tax Support Scheme implementation; Council Tax calculation; Housing Benefit Changes – Local Housing Allowance uplift; Accommodation Cap ('bedroom tax') and the overall Benefit Cap; and the review of Discretionary Housing Payments were considered.  The group endorsed the action plan, attached at Appendix C.  The elements of the action plan relating to the social fund, changes to disability benefits and the implications on the housing service are being developed and will be taken to the group as soon as they are ready. The action plan is a working document and will assist in identifying what needs to be done and monitoring progress.  Staff are being kept informed via a staff newsletter and team briefings.  Information is also made available via staffnet.  A briefing was organised for the Change Forum with the Trades Unions, which took place on 24th October 2012.  Staffing implications are uncertain at this time. Welfare Reform will remain on the Change Forum agenda and the Head of Financial Services gave a commitment to update the forum. Advice will be taken from HR on the future staffing implications and this will be the subject of a further report to the group.

8.             The group received update on the current position with the Council Tax Support Scheme.   The necessary regulations are being progressed by the Welsh Government and were dependent on the enactment of the Local Government Finance Bill (this bill received Royal Assent on 1st November 2012).   The Group was advised that there will be an all Wales Council Tax Support Scheme, and there will be a small number of areas where councils will have discretion. The proposed discretionary elements are outlined below:

·         Extended reduction period – ability to extend this beyond the standard 4 week period.

·         War Disablement Pensions and War Widow’s Pensions – discretion to disregard part or whole amount of these pensions when calculating income.

·         Designated Offices - discretion to enable other organisations to accept claims on a local authority’s behalf.

·         Backdating for working age claimants – while this will be reduced to three months with continuous good cause under the regulations LA’s will be given the discretion to back date claims for a longer period

9.             These will need to be considered when further details are available. The proposed scheme and the areas where discretion can be applied more or less match the existing scheme.  The main issue is of funding as the expectation is that all liable persons would make some contribution to their council tax bill. The headline reduction in funding is 10% - but estimates of the true impact range up to 20%.  This will not become clear until the final allocation of funding is made to Welsh Government.   

10.        The Council now has access to financial modelling software which has been provided to all councils in Wales.  This will help to identify the impact of the change and will assist the Council in budgeting for the scheme. The system allows the reduction in council tax support to be analysed by community, band, for working age and pensioner claimants.  This shows that 80% of the claimants affected by the changes are in Barry, Llantwit Major and Penarth.  

11.        The group considered and agreed a proposal to procure the necessary software for the implementation of the council tax support scheme which will be put to Cabinet on 5th November 2012.  

12.        The group received an up date on the current position with the benefit changes.   The council now has upgraded the benefit system which means that the impact of the bedroom accommodation restrictions can be more easily identified and shared with housing and social landlords.   Information on potentially over accommodated tenants has been shared with Council's housing service and with social landlords.  This is enabling them to identify tenants affected and the scale of the change in the context of their stock.   Discretionary Housing payments may help alleviate individual problems - the Council has a DHP policy which will need to be reviewed.

13.        The group considered and approved a questionnaire to identify the provision of money and debt advice across the council, LSB partners and the 3rd sector within the Vale of Glamorgan. It is inevitable that more resources will be required for money management and debt advice, but it is essential that these are targeted appropriately.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

14.        There are significant financial and employment implications which are identified in the action plan. These will be addressed as the action plan is progressed and via the Council's budget process and the service/workforce planning process.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

15.        There are no direct climate change implications, however, the Council need to ensure that measures put in place to support welfare reform are financially sustainable.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

16.        The Council is required to administer council tax, council tax support and housing benefit in line with government regulations

Crime and Disorder Implications

17.        Future changes to the benefits may have implications.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

18.        Central Government and the Welsh Government have assessed the equality implications of the welfare reforms and the council tax support scheme.  The Council will need to consider the implications of any discretion applied to the council tax support scheme in line with the regulations

Corporate/Service Objectives

19.        The service objective is to administer and pay housing and council tax benefits to eligible claimants.

Policy Framework and Budget

20.        The matter is for Executive Decision by Cabinet.  The responsibility for decisions relating to discretions in respect of the council tax support will be set within the regulations.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

21.        Members of the Task and Finish Group have been consulted 

Background Papers

Task and Finish Group Papers

Contact Officer

Clive Teague

Officers Consulted

Nigel Smith - Revenues and Benefits Manager

Maureen Neave - Benefits Manager

Paul Russell - Council Tax Manager

Carys Lord - Head of Business Management and Innovation (Social Services)

Mike Ingram - Operational Manager Housing Services

Responsible Officer:

Clive Teague

 

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