Callcredit Blog

A renaissance for interventions?

Business Efficiency

According to recently released preliminary statistics from National Statistics the fraud & error rate in housing benefit has risen to its highest ever rate at 5.8% of total expenditure. The rise has prompted the DWP to refresh its Housing Benefit (HB) Fraud, Error and Debt strategy and label the loss as unacceptable. Although the Department appear clear that the reason for the increase is due in the main to claimants not reporting income and earnings changes timeously, local authorities should sit up and take notice because the Department’s eventual plan to address the problem will inevitably rely on them to deliver the goods.

Our analysis shows that generally, caseloads are dropping which is a good thing but the composition of caseloads is changing. Although fewer people are claiming housing benefit the average amount of entitlement payable has risen slightly but paradoxically the percentage of claims receiving full benefit has dropped. We are now seeing far more standard (non passported) claims than before and the amount of self-employed claims has rocketed by as much as 17% in some London Boroughs. All this adds up to more complex claims and more potential for changes in circumstances.

Benefit periods in housing and then council tax benefit were abolished for good reasons and really significant savings were achieved by moving from a mandatory case review of all claims to a smarter regime of targeted interventions. I know from my travels and conversations that interventions in a huge number of local authorities had all but stopped in recent times to free up resources and meet the demands created by the recession. Now, on the whole processing times are under control but intervention work has never really got going again. I think the tacit message in August’s issue of HB Direct was that the DWP has tolerated the lack of intervention work for long enough and it is now time to restart in earnest. The question is how?

Do we just go back and pick up where we left off? Or has this hiatus provided a timely opportunity to consider interventions differently and start afresh? How many local authorities truly embraced the concept of targeting? How many used really robust risk scoring and measured actual outcomes to gauge performance? An intervention that finds no change is a waste of everyone’s time. If claimants are unwilling to engage with local authorities and report changes themselves and housing benefit matching service and existing data matching goes only so far, perhaps we should think more radically and start looking to other data sources to identify change.

I think there are many ways local authorities could improve targeting and performance monitoring. I can also see the role of credit reference agencies and the wealth of information held in Callcredit’s data to identify changes faster and more efficiently than ever before. Certainly a return to a full review of the entire caseload is now unthinkable, so we do need to think differently.

I’d be happy to discuss with you the ways that we can assist your intervention work.

Author: James Rawlins

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