Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A Huff and a Puff...

Well, here it is, after few technical gremlins I know you've all been on tenterhooks to find out what I think of the response that Cllr Trimble passed on to me concerning DHPs.

I've done it in the usual manner, quote then comment. You've got the uninterrupted response itself a couple of posts down.

Here goes -

''The DWP allocation to Nottingham for 2008/2009 was £62,517 (Actual spend for year end not available at present). This represents 0.05% of the overall benefit expenditure of £123m. ''

Aha, now at the risk of being cynical, you see what they're doing here? Its not very much money so why worry seems to be the implication. Mind you if they had used the overall limit for spending which was £156,293, it looks a little more significant at 0.13%. Then again, if the grant aid and overall limit had increased in line with inflation each year instead of being reduced due to underspending that overall limit would have been £308,838 for 08/09, or equivalent to 0.25% of the overall benefit budget.

''...and whilst the benefit service in recent years has worked to inform and encourage application, the level of awards remains close to the allocated DWP grant...''

You see, it's weasel words like this that tend to annoy me more than anything because its just so damn dishonest. Reading this you'd assume that the actual expenditure on DHPs had always been close to grant aid levels. This could not be further from the truth.

The biggest reason why expenditure is only now somewhere near the level of grant aid received is mostly because GRANT AID HAS BEEN REDUCED YEAR ON YEAR due to underspend, not because more payments have been made.

''...and it is the intent for the HB service, with appropriate partners to build further on current activities to ensure that future grant provision is maximised and funding identified to achieve maximum spend against the Government spending levels.''

Oh that's a good idea, I wonder who thought of that?

''A system currently exists for monitoring DHP cases. However, this is a manual approach and is not particularly conducive to the extraction of meaningful management information.''

Really now? According to the FoIA response I got it can't even keep track of the number of applications. Still, we'll hopefully get to the bottom of this with the help of the Information Commissioner.

''A database is being developed that will capture refusal rates, reasons etc.''

Why wasn't this done 3 years ago when the twin problems of high refusal rates and underspends were first identified?

''It should be noted however, that the controls built into the administration of DHPs, is robust, follows DWP best practice and has checking measures built in with management sign off for each case.''

NCCLols translation service writes; ''Waffle waffle waffle waffle a team leader does a couple of checks waffle..'' Robust my arse.

''A working group has been established bringing together advice agencies; Housing professionals and Housing Benefit administrators who will be undertaking analysis of the current DHP awards, including demographics, household make-up and awards details. In addition, benchmarking with other LA's with a good track record of DHP take up are being approached to share their best practise and approach. This group will be using this information to identify targeted activity.''

This looks exciting I wonder when the first meeting will be? I shall so look forward to reading through the minutes following next year's FoIA request. Other than that, my first impression holds for this bit. Its all about 8 years too late.

''Discussions have already taken place to identify potential funding streams within the City Council, which may be available to ensure that DHP funds are targeted to households vulnerable to homelessness as a consequence of rent arrears. This approach is also intended to maximise spend against the DWP allocation and secure future years funding.''

Good, good but if nobody is claiming and those that do are being refused...

''In addition awareness has been raised with Nottingham City Homes, Registered Social Landlords and local Private Rented Landlord Forums and will continue to do so when refreshing take-up material and launching a new Take-Up campaign for 2009/10. This will focus on potential qualifying conditions, how to access and the claiming process.''

A new Take Up campaign in 2009/10! Wow, you heard it here first folks. We will of course be keeping a close eye on this one...

''The DHP administration follows the best practice as defined by the Department for Works and Pensions and decisions are reached based on the individual circumstances of each case. However, a complete refresh of publicity and guidance material is currently in progress. In addition, an operational review is planned to revisit the decision-making, standards of evidence and ongoing/additional support issues raised by the DHP claim. This review will be undertaken with direct input from the advice sector and housing professionals with the intent to deliver against the purpose of the Discretionary Housing Payments scheme; Which is to alleviate poverty, sustain tenancies, prevent homelessness, safeguard families and help customers through difficult times.''

Is this saying they will actually be writing local guidance? I'm not really sure, its difficult to get past the waffle. I think it is. We'll have to wait and see I suppose.

''Detailed below are steps already undertaken by the service to increase take up and ward (sic) of DHP''

I'm shan't be going through all this again. If you want to see mydiscussion on things they've already done I think I've covered it all in the post about the FoIA response on DHPs.

You've heard the phrase 'Jam Tomorrow'? Well this is more like 'Strawberries could happen ... somewhere ... some day ...'

Yes there are perfectly good ideas here. But it all seems a bit unformed and rushed, a bit like if somebody came to your desk and said -

''Cllr Trimble's on the line. He wants to know what we're doing about DHPs. I can hold him off for about 2 hours but if you can't knock something up by then we're rumbled.''

But we'll see. We'll keep an eye on the figures. If the government grant and overall limit don't drop next year (or even increase maybe?) then they will be able to legitimately claim the tide has been turned. I'm trying to be charitable here...

And of course we'll eventually get the Information Commissioner's findings on the whole sorry mess which may raise a few more questions. Note how vague they are up there in their description of their monitoring system...

However, I feel strongly that somebody should be held to account for the past 8 years of total inaction. Maybe they should look for somebody who refused to send out DHP leaflets with benefit decisions because it would be too expensive. Somebody who's been smarming their way around the NCC corridors of power, smug after every Audit Commission inspection result despite it all being based on smoke, mirrors and bullshit. Somebody in overall charge of the worst benefit calculation accuracy rates in the entire region while forgetting to provide statutory information to claimants about appeal rights.

Yes, somebody like that carrying the can would be a good idea...

Overall NCCLols rating; 1.42 cheers (3 being the maximum) with questionable prospects for improvement.


Lobbydog said...

Good digging.

Andy said...

Thanks. Don't suppose there's any chance of you suggesting to the lads and lasses at the Post that they have a look into it?