18.1 The Operations Manager - Benefits and Business Support, Amy Mayes, reported that performance in the processing of new claims had improved. The target for processing changes of circumstances was being met despite the target having been made more challenging and there being a significant increase in the volume of forms, many of which resulted from a central Government fraud reduction scheme involving larger employers.
18.2 Councillor Osborne asked which larger organisations provided information to the Department for Work and Pensions. Ms Mayes explained that she did not know which organisations were involved but said that they would be larger employers who were able to provide payroll information electronically.
18.3 Ms Mayes reported that overpayments continued to be kept well below the Local Authority Error subsidy threshold, which allowed the Councils to gain full subsidy for the overpayments made.
18.4 The age of the cases being dealt with by officers had reduced, meaning that cases were being closed earlier. The vast majority of those cases over 35 days old were related to Universal Credit claims where information was not supplied.
18.5 Ms Mayes highlighted that the level of discretionary Housing Payments made by Babergh District Council and Ipswich Borough Council had increased and that it was likely that the Government grant provided to make these payments would be exhausted prior to the end of the financial year. This issue had been raised with the relevant S.151 officers.
18.6 Universal Credit was now available to the majority of working age claimants; officers were closely monitoring the relationship between Universal Credit and Council Tax Reduction schemes.
18.7 Councillor Patrick asked why the proportion of Council Tax Reduction claimants who were also receiving Universal Credit was so much higher in Babergh. Ms Mayes explained that this was because Universal Credit had been rolled out in Babergh earlier than in Ipswich and Mid-Suffolk.
18.8 The Operations Manager – Revenues, Andrew Wilcock, explained that the proportion of Council Tax collected was slightly down on the same point in 2017 in Mid-Suffolk and Ipswich, whilst it was slightly up in Babergh. There were issues to do with the regular recalculation of Council Tax Reduction entitlement related to Universal Credit which had impacted on collection rates.
18.9 Mr Wilcock explained that procedures in the recovery process had changed slightly, with informal approaches such as text messages being used initially for debts of less than £20 which saved the need for the more costly formal process in many cases. The level of recovery had not reduced as a result of this cheaper approach.
18.10 The proportion of Business Rates collected was down in Babergh and Mid-Suffolk with the debt profile changing; Mr Wilcock explained that NNDR remained volatile. There were also still Valuation Office Agency appeals pending from the 2010 rating list, meaning that provision needed to continue to be made.
18.11 Councillor Patrick asked whether the £4.5 million NNDR Valuation Appeals contingency for Babergh was likely to be needed. Mr Wilcock explained that the level ... view the full minutes text for item 18