The Local Authority (LA) Insight Survey is conducted every six months among managers with responsibility for the administration of Housing Benefit (HB) and Council Tax Benefit (CTB). It aims to provide the department with a regular means of finding out how LAs organise their benefit administration and gauging their views on the implications of current and future policy and regulations.
The report presents the findings of Wave 23 of the survey, which covered the following areas:
- Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)
HB Advice since the new regulations in April 2011
- impact of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) changes on homelessness and the movement of private rented sector claimants
- arrears and safeguards
- broken HB Claims
- temporary accommodation
A key aim of this wave of the survey was to explore the impact of changes to HB. These changes were announced in the June 2010 Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review of 2010 and included:
- changing the basis for setting LHA rates from the median (50th percentile) to the 30th percentile of local market rents
- capping LHA rates by property size:
- (£250 per week for 1 bed
- £290 per week for 2 bed
- £340 for 3 bed
- £400 for 4 bed or more – thereby scrapping the 5 bed rate)
- uprating HB rates annually from April 2013 at the 30th percentile of market rents, or, if lower, the September 2012 Consumer Price Index (CPI) rate.
Other relevant measures included increasing the government’s contribution to the DHP budget by £10m in 2011/12 and an additional £40 million per year in 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15. A non-dependent deduction to HB and CTB was also implemented in stages from April 2011 onwards.
These changes applied to new claimants from April 2011; existing claimants were given a transition period and were brought under the new regulations between January and December 2012. Thus, only new claimants were affected by the changes when the survey was conducted between October and December 2011.
Although two further changes were announced in October 2010, these would not have been in effect at the time of the survey.
The first of these involved raising the age for the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) from 25 to 35, and was introduced in January 2012. For existing claimants this applied on their next review after January 2012 or, if they were covered by the transitional protection period, when this period ended.
The second measure concerned capping total household benefits at £500 per week (£350 for single people); to be introduced in four London boroughs from April 2013, and more widely from Autumn 2013. It is possible, however, that while all of the changes did not yet apply to all HB claimants, anticipatory effects of these changes may have had a bearing on the survey. Indeed, several of the questions asked Local Authorities about their future plans in light of the changes.
One manager from all LAs in England, Scotland and Wales was invited to take part in the survey and each received an advance letter that included a copy of the questionnaire, so that they could consult other managers, if necessary. A total of 235 LAs participated in the survey and this includes some LAs that did not complete every section of the questionnaire. Overall, 170 filled in the questionnaire on the web, 50 on paper and 15 on the telephone, between 17 October and 16 December 2011. This represents a response rate of 62 per cent out of 379 LAs.
Wave 23 of the LA Insight survey forms part of the department’s comprehensive independent review in evaluating the impact of LHA reforms and is being published alongside the evaluation’s Interim Report. An early findings report of the LHA evaluation was published in June 2012 and a final report is due to be published at the end of the year.