Manchester City Council

Agenda item

Agenda item

Revenue and Benefits Annual Performance Report 2018/19

Report of the City Treasurer (Deputy Chief Executive) attached

 

This report provides performance data for the 2018/19 financial year for the Council Tax, Benefits and Business Rates Service areas.  The report also provides an update on key areas of work and the welfare reform changes.

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the City Treasurer, which provided Members with an overview of the performance of the Council’s Council Tax, Benefits and Business Rates service areas for the 2018/19 financial year.  The report also provided an update on key areas of work and the welfare reform changes.

 

The main points and themes within the report included:-

 

·                The annual performance results for the Revenues and Benefits Unit, covering the collection of Council Tax collection, Benefits administration and Business Rates collection;

·                Performance data in respect of areas of discretionary support including Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), Discretionary Council Tax Payment Scheme (DCTPS) and Welfare Provision Scheme, including food poverty grants;

·                Summary data on welfare benefit changes including the progress to transfer claims to Universal Credit and those areas of welfare reform administered by the Council, including spare room subsidy (bedroom tax) and Household benefit cap;

·                Key issues affecting the Unit and service areas and details the headline performance targets and objectives for the year ahead; and

·                Ward deprivation statistics that provided context and background to the ward based information within the report.

 

Some of the key points that arose from the Committees discussions were:-

 

·                How many empty properties existed where the Council was unaware of who the owner was and how did the Council go about trying to obtain this information;

·                How difficult was it to implement Orders for Sale where property owners had failed to pay outstanding Council Tax debts to the Council;

·                What happened in instances where owners who had failed to pay Council Tax sold on their properties;

·                Did Officers ever undertake unplanned reviews of  body camera footage from Enforcement Officers to ensure the Officers were operating appropriately and within the law;

·                Were there specific reasons as to why Council Tax collection rate and the amount of Council Tax arrears collected had reduced from 2012/13 onwards;

·                What was the Council’s stance on pursuing debt owed by those on low income and/or benefits;

·                In terms of the information sharing pilot with HMRC for recovering unpaid Council Tax, did the details of 4000 residents passed to HMRC related to just Manchester residents or was this nationally;

·                Of the proportion of residents details that the Council had passed to HMRC did they fit a certain demographic or was the sample random

·                What safeguarding was in place for people where the Council might have ordinarily identified through the use of Enforcement Officers some kind of vulnerability that it might no longer be able to identify as the Council adopted more automated methods for the collection of unpaid Council Tax, such as the pilot with HMRC;

·                How would the model currently used by the Team for tracking down those who owed Council Tax work for those who were not based in the UK for tax purposes;

·                Clarification was sought as to number of Council tenures in the city that were in award of discretionary housing payments

·                How many families had benefitted from the £75,9990 Discretionary Council Tax Payment that had been awarded to help those with two or more children;

·                It was suggested that if Universal Credit claim forms did not require details on the number of children within a household then the Council should lobby the DWP to collect this information;

·                Concern was expressed as to the level of rent expected to be paid for dispersed temporary accommodation and it was asked how this level had been set; and

·                Did the Council have figures in relation to the level of debt owed to the Council through the use of dispersed temporary accommodation.

 

The Corporate Revenue Manager advised that in most cases, the Council could only get information relating to property ownership off the Land Registry, however contacting the owner was not always easy as the only detail required by the Land Registry was an owners address.  The Council did go through various processes such as credit reference agencies to try and trace the owners of properties. The Council did consider the use of Charging Orders as these could be served on a property, whereas Bankruptcy orders required papers to be served on an individual.  He advised that he did not have the figures available in relation to how many properties existed where the Council was unaware of who the owner was but agreed to look into this and provide the information to Members.  In terms of Orders for Sale, it was explained that if this was pursued through a Charging Order, it required a judge to enforce the sale and was therefore not always guaranteed to be granted. 

 

In instances where owners who had failed to pay Council Tax sold on their properties, the Director of Customer Services and Transactions advised that unless there was an order on the property when it sold, the Council could not lay claim to any unpaid Council Tax.  Reassurance was given that the Council was relentless in trying to secure any unpaid monies and would look at the use of attachment of earnings orders, write to individuals and if necessary send Enforcement Officers to try and obtain the debt owed to the Council, even if they had moved outside of Manchester.  The Director advised that at present the Council did not undertake any ‘dip test’ of body cameras, however Revenue and Benefits Officers would undertake visits with Enforcement Officers, which in some instances would reveal wider intelligence on families who were in need of support.  The Director commented that there would be nothing preventing ‘dip tests’ to be undertaken and gave a commitment to undertake this and report back in next years report.

 

The Committee was advised that prior to 2012/13 residents who were on Income Support or equivalent, received Council Tax benefit equivalent to 100% of the Council Tax due.  Due to changes in legislation by central government in 2012/13, that abolished Council tax benefit and replaced this with localised Council Tax Support Schemes, the Council no longer received the same level of funding to cover the full cost of Council Tax Support, as such, the Council’s Local Council Tax Support Scheme was amended to ensure it remained affordable whilst taking into account other budgetary pressures, which resulted in the requirement for those in receipt of Council Tax support having to pay a contribution towards their Council Tax.  This had started at an 8.5% contribution and had risen up to a 17.5% contribution at the present moment.  Reassurance was given that the payment plans for those on a low income or benefits were based on their presenting circumstances, available income and level of engagement in order to try and recover the money owed and put them on debt repayment journey.

 

The Corporate Revenue Manager informed the Committee that the details of 4000 residents passed to HMRC did relate to just Manchester residents and this was broken down into 10 batches of 400, each batch with a different type of debt owed.  In terms of safeguarding, the process the pilot had to go through before launching included a presentation to the Board, which included Debt Advice Agencies before it was signed off.  The Council was required to send out warning letters to residents advising that they had been provided with their information from HMRC and that it was intended to implement Attachment to Earnings Orders unless they got in touch to make a repayment arrangement.  The Council also referred individuals to the Citizens Advice Bureau where vulnerability was identified.

 

In terms of tracking down individuals who owed Council Tax but who were not based in the UK, it was reported that this was a challenge but if the Council had any contact details including their employers details, attachment of earnings could be considered.  If the property was owned by a company then a Winding Up order would be considered.

 

Officers advised that the reason it appeared that the City had a high number of Council tenures in receipt of discretionary housing payments was due to the way the Council still recorded the payment of a proportion of these tenancies.

 

It was reported that the £75,990 Discretionary Council Tax Payment that had been awarded to help those with two or more children had helped 324 families across Manchester and the Council continued to work on this area to ensure all families that qualified for this support received appropriate payments.

 

In terms of dispersed temporary accommodation, it was explained that this type of accommodation was procured to place homeless families whilst a more permanent residency was sought.  In effect this was often private landlord accommodation.  The Director of Customer Services and Transactions advised that the rental levels were agreed some years ago and were set at a level the Council had committed to in order to secure the properties.  It was reported that this had been an area that the Council had been reviewing to see if there was any savings or efficiencies that could be achieved but it was a very complex area to find an appropriate resolution to. The amount paid by the Council used to be recoverable through a government subsidy, however this had reduced and consequently there was now a cost incurred to the Council.

 

The Director of Homelessness advised that the system for dispersed temporary accommodation was to move away from the use of B&B accommodation and family type hostels.  The difficulties the Council faced in securing these properties was due to the demand in the wider housing market and willingness of some landlords to house those who were deemed homeless.  He advised that steps were being taken to review this area with a view to drive down costs and provide private rented solutions.  He advised that he did not have the data to hand in relation to the level of debt owed to the Council through the use of dispersed temporary accommodation but agreed to provide this information to the Committee.

 

 

Decision

 

The Committee

 

(1)       Welcomes the update on the performance of the Council’s Council Tax, Benefits and Business Rates service areas for the 2018/19 financial year;

(2)       Requests that the Members be provided with a briefing note on the number of properties that existed where the Council was unaware of who the owner was and the action it could take to obtain this information

(3)       Note the commitment from the Director of Customer Services and Transactions that staff will undertake ‘dip tests’ of Enforcement Officers’ body cameras and telephone calls, at the request of the Committee, and that this will be reported back in next years Annual Report;

(4)          Requests that the Director of Homelessness provide a briefing note on the level of debt owed to the Council through the use of dispersed temporary accommodation and that this includes a comparison with Local Housing Allowance rates on a ward basis.

Supporting documents: