Shanaz Alam, Benefit Services Manager, gave a presentation on the Benefit Changes from 1 April 2013.
The Welfare Reform Bill received Royal consent 8 March 2012 and there was a new Local Government Finance Act 1 November 2012 which affected: Council Tax Support; Disability Living Allowance (DLA); Housing Benefit; Community Care and Crisis Loans; and Universal Credit. The changes would affect people of working age under the age of 61 years and were the same for men and women.
Localisation of Council Tax Support would replace Council Tax Benefit, and there would be 10% less funding than previously so the new scheme would need to take this into account. There would be the freedom to set up a new scheme but it needed to be in place by 31 January 2013 for 1 April 2013 start or a default scheme from the Government would be used. Pensioners would be protected, and the timetable would be considered by full Council in January 2013.
DLA would be replaced with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and DLA was administered by the Department for Work and Pensions for people aged 16 – 64 years. A new objective assessment would decide eligibility based on an activity test; there would be no automatic transition and all working age households would be re-assessed.
From April 2013 working age affordable housing tenants under occupying by one bedroom would have a 14% reduction in benefit and there would be a 25% reduction for two bedroom under occupation. Local Housing Allowance would be increased by CPI rather than local market rates; Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans would be devolved to Local Authorities to administer; and there would be an increase in the Discretionary Housing Payments budget.
Nationally 67,000 households would be affected by the Benefit cap which would be set at around £350 for single people and £500 a week for couples or loan parents with children. There would be a big impact on families with more than three children and protection for nine months after losing employment. Letters had been sent to households by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Universal Credit would replace current means tested benefits and Tax Credits; a single payment would be paid monthly in arrears at end of the month based on real time information; it was expected that all benefit would usually be paid direct to the claimant and not a landlord, even with temporary accommodation for homeless households; Universal Credit would be digital by default. Managed changes would be undertaken until 2017 for all existing customers for Housing Benefit.
Trends over the last three years had been analysed, and large companies in Bracknell had made redundancies. Pensioners would still receive an increase in benefits each year. Some households who had not paid council tax before would now need to pay it. The benefits changes would cause hardship for some people and Bracknell Forest Council would likely need to support more people. The gap between housing benefit payments and private rents for properties would increase.
Bracknell Forest Council had no choice but to implement the scheme. Letters had been sent to 67,000 people nationally by the DWP. So far no family had advised that they would be unable to pay the shortfall, and sometimes housing benefit was paid directly to the landlord to ensure the security of the tenancy. The Housing Benefit department was changing to digital, and it was queried how secure personal details would be if used by officers via pc tablets on visits to households. The aim was to use a fixed IP address rather than using wireless internet connection.
All staff in the Housing Benefits team were CRB checked. There was a consultation and letter notifying people receiving benefits of the forthcoming changes. The final settlement figure was not know at present.