Councils prepare for benefits changes
The Welfare Reform Act brings about a number of changes affecting councils, including the inclusion of housing benefits into the Universal Credit.
Whilst it is not yet clear what role, if any, councils will have in the administration of Universal Credit, the DWP and CLG Permanent Secretaries have advised that "looking forward to 2013, it will be important to manage down benefits services while retaining enough capacity to provide face-to-face support to that date".
To smooth the transition, the Local Government Association is currently seeking twelve local authority-led 'focus pilots' across the country. Their purpose is to develop the face-to-face delivery model rooted in councils' local knowledge and experience to improve claimants' experience. The deadline for expressions of interest is 18th May
The pilots may also provide an opportunity for those authorities to better-understand the costs of decommissioning housing benefit delivery services. With CLG and DWP keen to understand these costs, any council intending to bid for a 'focus pilot' may wish to use the relevant Portfolio-Holder Networks and Finance Directors' Group to disseminate findings to colleagues and seek a stronger, joint voice for how and where transitional support might be offered.
We are talking with councils with proportionately the largest levels of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Administration Grant to see how changes might impact on their future financial position.
The pilots only relate to the face-to-face support of claimants and other benefits-related work will see their own reforms. For example, fraud investigations will come under the Single Fraud Investigation Service, with staff continuing to be employed by local authorities but operating under SFIS powers, policies and priorities.
For more details about how the East of England LGA might support your pilot bid, please contact Adrian Cannard, Head of Strategic Support on 01284 729443 or email@example.com