Falkirk Council

Falkirk Council
Telephone: 01324 506070

Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction and Discretionary Housing Payments Take Up Strategy

The Revenues and Benefits Division of Falkirk Council administer the Housing Benefit (HB) scheme on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This helps tenants in receipt of low income pay their rent.

We also administer the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) Scheme on their behalf. This is additional short-term financial assistance for those in receipt of HB who still face shortfalls in their housing costs and need further help to pay their rent.

From 01 April 2013, Council Tax Benefit has been replaced by the Council Tax Reduction (CTR) scheme. We administer this on behalf of Scottish Government. This provides help to those on low incomes who are liable to pay Council Tax and need help to do so.

We offer an integrated HB and CTR Service through a single application process via our decentralised Area Office network at 8 offices throughout the Council area. The information we gather for HB/CTR is also used to assess entitlement to DHP.

We will ensure that:

  • customers receive the help that they are entitled to and assistance is provided to those who are in need in our efforts to increase household incomes to tackle disadvantage and discrimination.
  • the gateway to the application process is secure to prevent fraud and error arising.
  • effective liaison / data-sharing is in place across the appropriate Services / partners to maximise take-up / protect the use of public funds.

We aim to:

Provide fair and equal access to the Benefits Service by:

  • providing it to the whole community via a local network of One Stop Shops and smaller offices in the area they live, ensuring that fully trained, knowledgeable staff provide the Service.
  • ensuring that our communications and publications are clear, understandable and accessible.
  • actively publicising in our offices that we can provide on request interpreters for the majority of non English speaking residents using signposting at counters, posters in offices and in our literature.
  • providing advice, information, application forms and leaflets on the Falkirk Council website and regularly reviewing the content.
  • providing advice and information with award notices, decision letters, annual and ongoing Council Tax bills, reminders and Rent bills and arrears notices.
  • implementing an on-line solution which enables customers to complete and submit applications / report changes in circumstances to us.
  • offering a visiting service to give advice to those who are vulnerable or have difficulty getting to our offices on applying for help and assist them in the completion of forms.

Effectively use publicity to promote take up by:

  • publicising the availability of the schemes and how to apply using a variety of methods of communication eg posters, leaflets, press, radio adverts, business cards, web-site, intranet, employee newsletters etc.
  • publicising new initiatives / changes to the schemes which will increase entitlement to both current and potential applicants by a variety of means aimed at reaching all members of the community eg Council website; local radio campaigns and newspaper adverts where appropriate.
  • using a variety of LA publications to do so eg Falkirk Council News - the Council's newspaper which is delivered to every house in the area and the tenants' newsletter which is delivered to every council tenancy quarterly.
  • ensuring that policies regarding the administration and assessment of the schemes are transparent and widely publicised to encourage customers and advisors to apply.
  • providing information on application forms, award notices, visiting statements, bills, leaflets and posters about the need to let us know promptly about changes in circumstance – to maximise help and to prevent overpayments.
  • providing mechanisms for reporting changes in circumstance to us eg change in circs form.
  • providing the Communications Team with information about the Welfare Reform changes for these schemes for the Council's Welfare Reform web pages, regularly reviewing the content to ensure it is up-to-date.
  • adopting the corporate Welfare Reform branding to provide a unified image / message to our citizens.
  • providing Members with regular information and updates.
  • utilising opportunities for joint publicity with the Scottish Welfare Fund Team.

Work effectively and efficiently with partners and stakeholders to maximise take up by:

  • closely liaising with our partners in Job Centre Plus (JCP) and the Pensions, Disability and Carers' Service (PDCS) to gather applications, promote take up, improve our partnership arrangements and provide a seamless service to our customers.
  • undertaking joint sign up arrangements with the Council's Corporate and Neighbourhood Service when a Local Authority tenancy is let by using specially developed forms for the purpose to capture all the information we need to assess entitlement to HB, CTR, Council Tax discounts and exemptions and DHP if appropriate.
  • jointly working with the Debt Management Team and Corporate and Neighbourhood Service throughout the tenancy as part of our early intervention strategy to maximise help, mitigate arrears, help tenants sustain their tenancies and prevent homelessness.
  • simplifying the application process for tenants of registered private sector landlords working closely with the Council to prevent homelessness eg Accredited Landlord Scheme / Private Leased Scheme by sharing information and fast tracking applications and paying the landlord direct whenever it is appropriate to do so.
  • striving to break down the barriers for vulnerable customers by closely working with their representatives eg Y People to simplify the application process and assist them to find routes out of homelessness.
  • providing regular guidance and information to Registered Social Landlords and private sector landlords to ensure they can advise their tenants about the availability of help and how to apply, as well as advising them timeously of changes.
  • providing landlords with nominated liaison officers to deal with their enquiries and offer them guidance and advice.
  • providing regular information / briefing sessions on these schemes / changes to our internal / external partners in the Welfare Benefits, Debt Advice, Support and Connect Advice Services.

Maximise the net household income of our citizens by:

  • inviting applications for HB and CTR from working age and pension age customers who have to apply directly to the Council and not through one of our partners JCP or PDCS.
  • ensuring that effective and efficient liaison arrangements are in place to capture applications and data from our partners JCP and PDCS who gather the information on our behalf from Pension Credit customers and working age customers on a pass-ported benefit or Employment and Support / Job-Seekers Allowance (contribution based).
  • inviting applications for HB / CTR from those who fail to qualify for pass-ported benefits eg Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance (Income Based), Employment & Support Allowance (income related).
  • effectively gathering information about their revised circumstances to assess entitlement to standard HB / CTR from those customers who start to work and awarding Extended Payments wherever appropriate.
  • inviting a short application form from applicants with a change in circumstance only seeking evidence of any changes since their last claim / discrepancies to speed up the review process.
  • carrying out targeted interventions visits / postal checks on high risk claims to identify changes in circumstances and minimise overpayments.
  • implementing changes in circumstances reported to us by DWP via ATLAS timeously.
  • undertaking targeted take-up campaigns with our partners and stakeholders.
  • having regard to the maximisation of benefits in making policy decisions (for example war pension disregards) and in other discretionary areas.
  • referring customers to Welfare Benefits Advisors to assist with claims for state benefits they may be entitled to and to Debt Advisors for multiple debt advice.
  • referring customers who may be entitled to protection from the under occupancy restrictions or benefit cap for an income maximisation check where appropriate.
  • sharing data with other Services where there is a legal gateway to do so to assist with the efficient and effective delivery of Local Welfare provision / financial assessments and to mitigate the financial impacts of Welfare Reform.
  • carrying out financial assessments on behalf of other Services where there is a legal gateway to do so eg school clothing and footwear grants, Residential Care and Home Care charges etc.
  • carrying out a financial assessment where appropriate when assessing our customers' ability to repay HB overpayments.
  • effectively promoting the DHP scheme to ensure customers who need further financial assistance with their housing costs receive help.
  • actively seeking DHP applications where we identify customers may need help to mitigate the impact of Welfare Reform on those facing financial hardship / needing help to sustain their tenancies and prevent homelessness.
  • carrying out a financial assessment when assessing DHP claims ensuring that help is targeted at those who can demonstrate that they need further financial assistance to pay their rent and payments are made in line with the Council DHP policy.
  • considering the impact of the Council's Collection policies when considering arrangements for the repayment of HB overpayments.
  • promoting the take up of Council Tax discounts and exemptions.
  • effectively engaging with local employers where there are significant redundancies pending.

Seek the views of our customers and using their experience of applying for help to inform future delivery by:

  • carrying out regular targeted customer surveys.
  • providing customers with Comments Forms to gather feedback.
  • analysing the causes of complaints.