Councils administer Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit on behalf of the government.
They are means tested benefits, which may be claimed by anyone in the community who has a liability to pay rent and Council Tax. They are a vital form of financial help for some of the most vulnerable members of society.
They are significant for these reasons:
- the substantial amount of money involved
- the large number of families who need this help to pay their rent and Council Tax
- the potentially high risk within the system for fraud and error
Although councils administer the schemes, the government sets the rules about who is eligible. They generally pay for 100 per cent of benefit awards made and make a substantial contribution to the costs of administering the schemes. The successful administration of the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit schemes helps the council meet some of its strategic objectives and through this tackles deprivation and poverty.
The benefits service standards you can expect relate to:
See our benefits service standards in the document below. They are also displayed in the Revenues Hall Benefits reception area.
Good customer care is a very important aspect of the service you receive from the benefits team. We aim to process claims efficiently and effectively. Our auditors and inspectors are keen to promote best practice when dealing with customers in person and over the telephone, particularly by encouraging good enquiry facilities.
We have set standards for dealing with enquiries that cover:
- opening times and accessibility
- how we treat people
- what we do when things go wrong
- the quality of the advice we give
We want our customers to feel comfortable in all of their dealings with us. For this reason, we have standards that cover the whole range of services we deliver as part of our administration of the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit schemes.
Performance indicators and standards
The performance of the benefits team is key to the delivery of an effective Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit operation that meets national and local objectives. It is important that we set ourselves clear aims and objectives and monitor our position against those targets. We gather statistics and report them to the government. Results for all councils are published and compared. Improvements are expected where performance is poor. The council sets new improving performance targets every year and we report regularly to council members so that they are able to monitor what we are doing. The benefits team are committed to providing a quality service that is always looking to improve and change for the better.
Benefit rules are very specific about how we pay benefit entitlement. Where there is a liability to the council for rent and Council Tax, we are required to adjust the liability, leaving a net amount of rent and Council Tax to pay. Tenants who pay rent to a private landlord or housing association will normally receive rent allowance payments themselves. Entitlements may be paid to landlords. Where a decision about entitlement is delayed because information is missing, a payment on account can be made. Future payments will be adjusted accordingly.
An overpayment is an amount of benefit which has been paid but to which there is no entitlement. Most overpayments are recoverable. They cost the council money, so we must do our best to collect them. We try to minimise overpayments by processing information quickly and accurately. We tell customers what changes will affect entitlement and how to avoid overpayments.
Read our overpayment policy.
Discretions and modification available within benefits schemes
The rules for assessing entitlements to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit are laid down by parliament and are very detailed. There are, however, discretionary areas within the rules where a council can decide what to do. If a council chooses to be more generous, a proportion of the cost may fall to the council.
These are the areas where a council can make more favourable decisions:
- disregarding some or all of War Disablement, War Widow’s or War Widower’s pensions
- recovery of overpayments
- considering good cause for backdating
- overlapping Housing Benefit temporarily to cover two homes
- paying landlords
- discretionary housing payments
- deciding on rent levels for tenants of housing associations and other councils providing specialist accommodation
They are complex areas of administration. Special leaflets explain how we make decisions and encourage requests for special consideration.
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit entitlement is normally only awarded from the Monday after a claim is received. Where a claimant can show continuous good cause for any delay in making a claim, we can backdate entitlement for up to six months for these not subject to pension age rules, and three months for those subject to pension age rules. Good cause is a reason that stopped a claim for benefit being made earlier. A special leaflet on this topic explains the considerations and includes an application form.
A key objective of the benefits team is to make rent and tax payers, and other stakeholders such as landlords, aware of the schemes. We do this in partnership with other government agencies and voluntary organisations active in the community. We recognise that every Council Tax payer and council tenant is a potential claimant and we regularly include benefit information when we communicate with them. We work with landlords to promote the Housing Benefit scheme at the start of tenancies, encouraging tenants of private sector landlords to get a pre-tenancy determination as an indication of potential entitlement. We use the information we have about our customers to actively encourage claims for other existing or new benefits.
Verification and quality control
The process of verifying information supplied by claimants or their representatives is undertaken to ensure that all entitlements to benefit are calculated correctly and that decisions reached are accurate and lawful. When verifying information we work to standards set by the government, and only original and current documents can be accepted as evidence in support of a claim. We aim to maintain a secure gateway to the benefits we administer and to stop fraudulent claims. The monitoring of the quality, accuracy and speed of benefit assessment is integral to maintaining a well-managed, accurate, customer-focused Benefits Service. Our aim is to use the information we collect to remove errors from the claims assessment process. We want to get things right first time and identify service delivery improvements.
The prevention and detection of benefit fraud is an important part of the work we do. We are fully committed to taking all reasonable steps to make sure that benefit is only paid when it is due. Benefit fraud is the unacceptable face of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit that we are working hard to reduce. To help us do this we need you to report anyone who you suspect may be getting benefit that they are not entitled to.<