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Section highlightHouses into homes This report details findings to emerge from the evaluation during the first six months of delivery (April to September 2012).
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Consultation on proposals for ground-breaking legislation to reform arrangements for renting homes
Minister for Housing and Regeneration Carl Sargeant has launched a White Paper for consultation on the Welsh Government’s legislative proposals to improve arrangements for renting homes.
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National minimum standards for regulated child care »These standards determine whether child minding and day care settings are providing adequate care for children under the age of 8.Learn more »
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Section highlightFurther and Higher Education (Governance and Information) (Wales) Bill 2013
Removes a number of technical restrictions and controls on colleges without changing the principal powers of colleges to provide further, higher and secondary education.
Legislative programme 2012 - 2013 »
Addressing the Assembly in the Senedd today, the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, detailed the eight bills in the Welsh Government’s 5-year Legislative Programme that will be brought forward during the second year of the Welsh Assembly.Learn more »
Section highlightCommunity Infrastructure Levy
Local authorities can charge a Community Infrastructure Levy on new developments to support the infrastructure needed.
2nd Supplementary Budget 2012-13 »
Proposes a number of changes to the 1st Supplementary Budget for 2012-13, which was published on 26 June 2012.Learn more »
Written - Update on Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit Take-up Campaign and announcement of continuing funding for the remaining two years of the scheme
Promoting financial inclusion and tackling poverty, particularly child poverty, are fundamental to the future prosperity of Wales and to the health and well being of everyone. Increasing the take-up of benefits and maximising incomes is an important strand in our efforts to meet our One Wales commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020. It also complements our One Wales plans to improve access to comprehensive benefits advice and our financial inclusion strategy.
Following the success of the previous Council Tax Benefit (CTB) Take-up scheme of 2006-07 (where the Welsh Assembly Government allocated £1.5m to support local authorities in their attempts to increase take-up) we allocated a further £1m per annum for the three years 2008-11 to further support authorities in their efforts to increase take-up. To maximise the impact of the new scheme, we extended the scope to include Housing Benefit (HB), and to widen the focus of attention to families with children as well as pensioners. Around one in three households are eligible and many are simply unaware that they can get help with their bills.
In addition to this funding the Welsh Assembly Government set up a working group to research the barriers to CTB and HB take-up in Wales and to highlight and promote best practice, based on the experience of the local authorities that have successfully increased CTB take-up in recent years. The working group produced a report, which identified the barriers and made practical suggestions as to how local authorities can overcome these barriers and reach more of those people who are not claiming the benefits to which they are entitled.
This report, can be accessed at the Welsh Assembly Government website.
It was issued to all local authorities with the aim that it would help them to make the best use of the funds that have been made available to them under the current scheme. We realize that not all of the recommendations will be appropriate to all local authorities but this report is intended to help them and their partner organizations maximize take-up of CTB and HB.
As part of the terms and conditions for the grant payments local authorities were required to submit an action plan for the Assembly Government’s approval by the end of June 2008, and a final progress report with an impact assessment of the actions they had taken by the end of January 2009.
All reports received gave detailed accounts of authorities’ actions including the costs of the activities undertaken. The received reports suggest that authorities carried out a wide variety of events and schemes across Wales, ranging from advertising schemes, hiring benefit staff, training current authority workers and using technology to identify potential claimants. The reports suggest that these techniques have met with success and they prove determination and effort on the part of the local authorities in their innovative embrace of the take-up scheme.
Many local authorities utilised their grants to hire benefit take-up staff – officers with a specific role to generate new HB and CTB claims. These officers make home visits, trawl Pension Service data and revisit cases of previous unsuccessful claimants in order to identify and target potential claimants. The work of these officers has increased the take-up of benefits in those authorities where utilised and have had a dramatic effect on the amount of benefit being awarded. As an example, from July 2008 to date, an additional £11,279.30 has been paid to residents within Merthyr Tydfil (£4,421.7 awarded as HB and £6,857.59 awarded as CTB) due to their appointment of a Take-Up officer whom they share with Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council. This is a clear example of collaborative working between authorities as Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council has awarded an additional £3,557.12 as HB and £6,306.32 as CTB, due to completely combined resources.
Therefore, a significant take-up action that various authorities have engaged in successfully is collaborative working with each other and with the voluntary services. In doing so authorities have found their opportunity to identify and target potential claimants has widened as shared resources provide for larger and greater activities to be carried out that otherwise would not be possible. Other examples include Monmouthshire County Council and Torfaen County Borough Council who have combined their resources to have a joint publicity campaign on Stagecoach buses running throughout the area. Ceredigion County Council, Gwynedd Council, Conwy County Borough Council, Denbighshire County Council, Flintshire County Council, Wrexham County Borough Council and the Isle of Anglesey County Council have collaborated on a huge publicity campaign in which internal and external advertising posters were placed on Arriva buses.
Several local authorities have also offered benefit training to other authority workers and voluntary services with whom they have partnerships. Revenue officers in local taxation departments within authorities who deal with council tax queries have been trained to identify potential claimants and direct them to their benefit units in order that they may make an application. Since April 2008 the council tax section of the City and County of Swansea Council has internally transferred 1086 calls to their benefit take-up team, where efficient and accurate checks can be conducted giving potential claimants a quick decision, getting successful claims to be processed quicker. Swansea, like many other authorities, have also formed strong partnerships with volunteer services such as Age Concern, and in providing training to them they have received 96 referrals (resulting in an extra £64,300 worth of benefit being awarded). Throughout the Vale of Glamorgan, Citizens Advice (CAB) has been conducting health checks at people’s homes. 73% of the clients seen to date have completed a benefit application form, resulting in 53% of successful claims.
Advertising campaigns have of course been a prominent feature of local authority Benefit Take-Up schemes, as it is essential to make people aware of the financial support available before people can apply for them. Ready reckoners have been issued with council tax bills, posters and flyers have been distributed in publicly accessible places such as doctors’ surgeries and public libraries, schemes have been promoted on public transport and adverts have been placed in newspapers, newsletters and on radio stations. At Cardiff Council, their Benefit hotline received 1075 calls between 1st October 2008 and 31st December 2008, all due to varying advertising techniques.
The increased use of technology has also been incorporated into the Take-Up schemes of local authorities. Databases provided by the Pension Service have been scoured thoroughly with potential claimants being identified and then contacted via telephone and home visits. Denbighshire County Council has contacted 140 potential claimants since September 2008 that they have identified from the Pension Service data sets. Of those contacted, 49 people are now in receipt of HB and/or CTB. Websites have been modified and improved to make accessing information, guidance and forms that can be downloaded and completed, even easier to members of the public. On-line adverts have been placed and benefit calculators have been implemented. All have proved encouraging in increasing awareness of and up-take of benefits.
Local authorities have held varied benefit occasions and benefit teams have attended and promoted benefit take-up at a number of events, ranging from school fetes to community coffee mornings. Bertie the Benefit Bear mascot of the City and County of Swansea Council has made numerous public appearances, and is now an easily identifiable character to children, increasing awareness of benefits to young families. All of these events have acted to increase applications for benefit and actual take-up.
On receipt of the take-up reports, a clear indicator of success is that all local authorities have experienced an increase in benefit take-up. A large amount of backdated benefit has been awarded to successful claimants. Many of the schemes and actions implemented by authorities are still in their infant stages and so any appraisal of the schemes currently conducted will not provide a true rate of success, as results will only become apparent at a later date.
When assessing the actions for the purpose of the proposed continuation of the grant scheme, we have of course considered that the current economic climate has an obvious impact on the number of benefit claimants in Wales. It is certain that many people are now eligible for benefits that 12 months ago would not have been, and this looks set to continue. This will have in itself caused an increase in the number of claimants, but we should also consider that this provides an additional reason for the scheme to continue. The fact that the financial help available to people is being promoted and thus increasing awareness, is of considerable importance when there is such economic uncertainty. Evaluation of the scheme’s effectiveness and an assessment of the impact of the current recession on benefit take-up is being considered by Welsh Assembly Government researchers. This will allow a more thorough and accurate measure of success for the remainder of the scheme.
The progress reports have illustrated a promising start to the take-up scheme and I am happy to announce that the grant scheme should continue in its current format for the remaining 2 years of the scheme. The reports show a considerable amount of effort on the part of authorities in their attempts to ensure that the citizens of Wales receive the financial help and support that they are rightfully entitled to. It is clear that the Barriers to Take-Up in Wales report has been a useful tool referred to in the planning and implementation of activities and actions by local authorities.
The combined Welsh Assembly Government funding and innovative Local Authority actions may not only provide a significant increase in household income to improve the quality of life for individuals, but could also have wider effects on the local economy. The availability of more disposable income will probably result in at least some of it being spent in local areas, thus supporting local shops and businesses.