Payment Standard. Benefits Service

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1 Payment Standard Council Tenants will have any rent rebate credited to their rent account, leaving the tenant with a net amount to pay. Tenants who pay rent to a private landlord will receive payments, normally by automated bank credit, in arrears, at the end of the payment period. Housing Benefit may be paid to a landlord where: payment to the landlord is in the interest of the claimant and his family; the person has ceased to reside in the dwelling in respect of which entitlement is payable but payment shall be limited to the value of the rent arrears. Housing Benefit will be paid to a landlord where: part of the claimants unemployment support benefit is paid directly to the landlord to meet rent arrears, or the claimant has rent arrears equivalent to eight weeks rent or more, unless it is not considered to be in the best interests of the claimant to pay the landlord, in which case payment is suspended and paid to neither party until the matter has been resolved. If payment of Housing Benefit to the claimant is considered unsatisfactory, other options may be appropriate. For instance: making cheques payable to the landlord and sending them to the claimant; paying benefit to the claimant in the landlord s presence; or paying benefit to a trusted third party, for example a solicitor or social worker; or making the first cheque payable to a landlord with subsequent payments going to the claimant. Payment on account of Housing Benefit for private tenants These will be made where a decision on entitlement cannot be finalised because information is missing. A payment on account will be made in the following circumstances: awaiting Rent Officer figures only the claimant shows 'good reason' for not supplying information (see below) information required is for non-dependants income only (claim can be assessed using the maximum non-dependent deduction) awaiting information from the Pension Service, Job Centre Plus Office, DWP and HM Revenue & Customs (but customers are able to provide confirmation of entitlement) Council Tax Benefit is credited to the recipients Council Tax account, leaving the taxpayer with a net amount to pay.

2 Benefits Take-up Standard 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. 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 strive to remove any barriers to claiming benefit that we are able to identify by encouraging our staff to be helpful and friendly visiting people in their own homes on request training all relevant staff to recognise potential claims having an accessible enquiry point in a central location talking to community groups offering information and publicity material by many means and in various formats awarding benefit quickly and making the process as easy as we can 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 pretenancy 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. helping with claim forms and evidence gathering

3 Discretions Standards Councils administer Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit on behalf of the Government. The rules are laid down by Parliament and are very detailed.the Government generally pays for most of benefit awards made. 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 higher proportion, and sometimes all, of the cost falls 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 2 homes Discretionary Housing Payments Deciding on rent levels for tenants of housing associations and other councils providing specialist accommodation This is the standard of service you can expect from the Benefits team. We will Offer leaflets explaining how the discretions work, including simple request forms Make reasonable requests for more information to help with decision making, when necessary Take individual personal circumstances into account Train staff to understand the discretions Have guidelines to indicate when discretions can be used Process requests and notify outcomes quickly Pay any additional entitlement within 7 days of a decision War Disablement, War Widow s and War Widower s pensions There is a statutory disregard of these awards of 10 per week, or 20 per week per family. The Council has decided to disregard the remainder of these payments. The cost of this, after a contribution from the Government, is reported to councillors every year via the budget process. Other discretions There are more notes about them in the specialist leaflets. Consider using our discretion whenever appropriate Make customers aware of the discretions

4 Performance Standard 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. The Government requires that we monitor our performance on the following activities the average time for processing claims and changes number of changes to benefit awards The results for all councils are compared and we are graded as to how well we are doing. Where performance is poor or average, improvements are expected and plans must be put in place. This is our performance last year (2006/07), compared to the average for councils like us. The Council sets new improving performance targets every year for all of its services. These are monitored by officers and councillors. In addition to the Government measures of our performance, the way we administer the Benefit schemes is inspected by national auditors. Inspectors and auditors use standards to assess whether we provide a modern, customer-focused, efficient, effective and secure service that is continuously seeking to improve. The aim is to demonstrate that ours is such a service by having clear stated aims with actions, resources and monitoring to deliver them, including effective training and use of Information Technology providing an efficient and prompt service that meets customers needs speedily and accurately processing and verifying claims working effectively with landlords keeping the system secure preventing benefit fraud and investigating anomalies preventing, identifying and recovering overpayments The Benefits team are committed to providing a quality service that is always looking to improve and change for the better. Measure Processing new claims Processing changes Claims calculated correctly How we did 29 days 12 days 98% How other councils did 33 days 14 days 98%

5 Customer Care Standard This is the standard of service you can expect from the Benefits team. Our aim is to encourage claims from all who can qualify and to make the process quick and easy. We will set and maintain high standards tell you what those standards are provide a friendly, professional service pay Benefit promptly and accurately listen to any complaints you may have put any problems right quickly On a personal level, we will be welcoming, polite and helpful avoid using jargon only ask for relevant information and explain why it is needed say what we can and can t do so that you know what to expect from us and, where we can t help, try to find out who can respect the right to confidentiality, privacy and safety not discriminate against anyone because of race, sex, marital status, age, disability, sexuality or religion arrange interpretation, translation or signing when requested ask for your views treat you with respect try our best to do a good job Caller facilities We will be open for at least 8 hours on weekdays. The reception area will be well sign posted, clean, and tidy with provision made for children. We will see you within 10 minutes and even quicker outside lunchtime. You can have a private interview. You can make an appointment for a specific time, if more convenient. We will help you complete your claim form. There will be leaflets to help with the more complicated areas. We will offer advice about other Benefits. Letters, faxes and s We will respond to your enquiries within 5 working days, with an acknowledgement for complex issues, and a full reply within 3 weeks. We will use language that is easy to read and understand and clearly explain technical terms. Telephones The target for our call centre is to answer calls within 20 seconds. We will clearly state who we are and give a name if asked. We will respond to answer phone messages by the end of the next working day. Your call to the Council will only be transferred once. You will be offered a return call rather than being transferred twice. Accessibility We offer 24 hour web access and our address is Our Call Centre provides an out of normal hours telephone answering service until 8pm on weekdays and Saturday mornings. Our reception area has been adapted for all access needs. We have a special cubicle for wheelchair users and those with pushchairs. Our letters and leaflets may be produced in large print, translated or produced in another format on request. Visits to customer s homes We will visit those customers who are unable to leave their homes. We will make an appointment if asked and keep to it, and telephone if delayed. We will explain our reasons for visiting if the visit is without prior warning. On arrival, we will show an identification card. Putting things right We recognise that things sometimes go wrong and we have procedures to deal with complaints. You will be asked to put any complaint in writing so that we can keep a record of what has happened and try to ensure that it does not happen again. If you are unhappy with your Benefit award you have a right of appeal to an independent tribunal. We have a leaflet which explains the process in detail. The Local Government Ombudsman will review the administration of your claim, on request, if you think we have handled things badly. Our expectations of customers We expect our staff to be treated with courtesy and politeness by our customers. We will support staff who experience discrimination, abuse or threats.

6 Verification & Quality Control Standards Verification Standard 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. Verification is where the details of a claim are validated. We work to recommended standards 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 stop fraudulent claims. Evidence is required for most aspects of a claim and includes papers confirming: identity and ownership of a National Insurance Number for the claimant and any partner residency of a dwelling and liability to pay rent receipt of unemployment support benefits earnings from employed earner or self employment work other benefit entitlements, pensions and allowances capital holdings and investments a non-dependant s circumstances These are the standards you can expect from us Our requests for information will be reasonable and will depend on individual circumstances We will keep you informed of what papers are required from you We will take copies and return original documents to you If you don t have the papers we need we will help you to confirm your details Papers will be processed quickly and effectively Details will be cross checked against information already held Information will be stored and used to comply with the laws governing data protection Staff are trained and apply the standard fairly in all cases We will visit to gather evidence if necessary Quality Control Standard This is the standard of service that you can expect from the Benefits team. The monitoring of the quality, accuracy and speed of benefit assessment is integral to maintaining a well managed and accurate customer focused benefits service. Monitoring regimes include: Management checks on the integrity and security of benefit processes, practices and procedures Checking the quality of work completed by teams and individual officers Identifying the training and development needs of staff Reviewing service delivery to secure improvement We will: Check the quality and authenticity of evidence and proofs provided by claimants in support of their benefit claims Check at least 4% of all processed claims Check the work completed by new or inexperienced members of staff Check that complicated or complex cases have been processed correctly in accordance with the rules and the facts of the case Complete additional checks where it is considered necessary Maintain records of checks undertaken Use these records to identify training needs Monitor the effectiveness and level of checking 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.

7 Backdating Standard If you are entitled to Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Benefit any amount will normally only be awarded from the Monday after we receive your claim. However, if you can show that you had continuous good cause for any delay in making your claim we can backdate your Benefit for up to 52 weeks starting from the date on which we receive your written request for backdated Benefit. Good cause is a reason that stopped you from making a claim for benefit earlier. This is the standard of service you can expect from the Benefits team. The claim form identifies that a claim may be backdated A personal interview will be arranged to gather information in appropriate circumstances We will deal with backdating requests and notify outcomes quickly Any backdated entitlement will be paid within 7 days of the award decision We will award backdated benefit if good cause is established We monitor backdated awards to identify where administrative improvements can be made to encourage claims when financial support with housing costs is needed. A leaflet explains backdating and helps with requests Each request for backdating is considered on its own merits Staff are trained to identify and deal with backdating requests and will encourage a written request in appropriate circumstances Requests for information in support of a claim for backdating will be reasonable

8 Counter Fraud Standard 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. We will Aim to make sure that people who commit benefit fraud are identified and prevented from carrying out their criminal activities Validate information given on claim forms Prosecute offenders where there is sufficient evidence and the circumstances are justified Make sure that every effort is made to recover benefit overpaid due to fraudulent activity Encourage the public and staff to report suspected fraud Follow up all reports of suspected fraud Make sure we have the resources to carry out investigations including pro-active enquiries Develop an anti-fraud culture among staff and the public Work in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions, the Police and other recognised organisations Participate in national data matching exercises Use the Royal Mail do not re-direct scheme so that important benefit payments cannot be re-directed Continue to adapt our policies and working practices in line with developing government legislation What we need 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. The telephone number to call is Use the free phone to make an anonymous allegation about benefit fraud. Train our staff to nationally accredited standards Appoint trained Authorised Officers who will have the powers of entry and inspection of business premises

9 Overpayment Standard 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. This is the standard of service you can expect from the Benefits team. We will.. Tell claimants how to avoid overpayments Process information quickly and accurately to minimise overpayments Offer a leaflet to explain all about overpayments Calculate an overpayment by deducting any new entitlement even without a new claim Consider the personal circumstances of a claimant when deciding on recovery Make reasonable requests for more information to help with decision making, when necessary Use our discretion to waive recovery in appropriate cases Train staff in the calculation of overpayments and the considerations surrounding recovery Notify overpayments to comply with the law Accept reasonable offers of repayment Offer various methods of payment including deductions from ongoing benefit entitlement, transfer to other accounts, invoice Reconsider any part of our decision about an overpayment on request, including The calculation of the overpayment Whether we should recover Who we recover from The method of recovery The rate of recovery Monitor overpayments and their recovery to identify administrative improvements Set recovery targets Pursue outstanding debts rigorously using debt collection agencies and by taking civil action through County Court, where necessary

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