Latest from Parliament – to 9th March 2012

News from Parliament – week ending 9 March 2012-03-09

Staff redundancy

What funding his Department has allocated for the redundancy costs associated with a reduction of housing benefit staff in local authorities upon implementation of universal credit. [94495]

Steve Webb:

The Department for Work and Pensions is working with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the devolved Administrations and the local authority associations to understand the impact on cost and associated resource of the introduction of universal credit and housing costs for pensioners on current local authority benefit services.

We are working together to develop and understand the service design and migration process, a detailed migration schedule and the impact of universal credit in the context of the wider welfare reform. Only then will we be able to assess the implications for local authority resource and associated costs.

Direct payment to social landlords – Universal Credit

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the number of weeks' rent arrears will be which will trigger direct payment of housing benefit on the application of a social landlord following the introduction of universal credit. [97097]

Chris Grayling:The Government are committed to supporting, working-age recipients of housing benefit make the transition to a single monthly direct payment of benefit as part of universal credit. This change is seen as key to helping people develop the financial management skills required to move with ease from benefits into work by mirroring a regular salary. Maintaining single payment is also important so that claimants can see clearly the effect of their decisions about work on total household income.

Although most of those in the private rented sector are already used to receiving their payments directly and managing their finances accordingly, it is recognised that for others, including many in the social rented sector, the change may raise additional challenges.

On 19 January, DWP announced five housing benefit demonstration projects which will involve selected local authorities, housing association partnerships and between 10,000 and 12,000 social housing sector housing benefit customers nationwide. One of the key aims of these projects is to look at the range and level of support that different customers will need to help them to manage their finances, including how intervention can be best targeted if they start to struggle with meeting payments.

In exceptional circumstances, alternative payment arrangements may be needed to support them in the move to universal credit. We are working with housing associations, local authorities and claimant representative groups to determine the circumstances in which we would consider making such alternative arrangements. This work will be informed by the outcome of the demonstration projects, factoring in independent evaluation of the projects conducted by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research.

Council Tax support – IT provision

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government when he became aware of the concerns expressed by Capita on the date proposed for the introduction of the council tax reduction scheme and that they would not be able to provide the necessary systems by April 2013. [98058]

Robert Neill:The Government have received a number of representations on the timetable for implementing local council tax schemes. As the Government response to consultation on the proposals set out, we believe that retaining the current approach for calculating support for pensioners, and enabling support for working age claimants to be calculated using the same factors, has the potential to reduce significantly the amount of change required to underlying IT systems. This could help reduce both the cost of introducing new schemes, and the time taken to make the necessary IT changes.

We are aware of a memorandum from Capita to local authorities, dated 12 January 2012, on the approach to implementing changes to IT systems. This notes that, for some schemes, using the existing software with adaptations looks like a very credible approach for the first year of implementation. I am encouraged to note that Capita are seeking to engage with local authorities on this matter.

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what recent discussions he has had with providers of IT systems on the implementation of the council tax reduction scheme. [98059]

Robert Neill:My officials have met with a range of IT suppliers on a number of occasions to discuss the localisation of council tax support, which will require local authorities to commission changes to their existing systems to deliver local council tax reduction schemes. The detail of such changes and the approach to implementation is a matter for local authorities to discuss with IT suppliers.

Council Tax Support Regulations

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government when he expects the regulations pertaining to council tax reduction schemes to be available to local authorities. [98060]

Robert Neill:The Government have said that they expect to make regulations pertaining to council tax reduction schemes and/or detailed explanatory memoranda on the regulations available (including to local authorities) in May 2012.

We have already made available to local authorities a tool that allows councils to evaluate the effect of different council tax support regimes on their particular circumstances, using data that they already hold.