Agenda and minutes

Venue: Level 5 Meeting Room, Breckland House, St Nicholas Street, Thetford IP24 1BT

Contact: Committee Services, Breckland Council  Tel: 01362 656870

Items
No. Item

47.

Minutes (Agenda Item 1) pdf icon PDF 82 KB

To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 14 June 2012.

Minutes:

The Minutes of the meeting held on 14 June 2012 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

 

It was noted that there had been an additional meeting with Jim Paice, Member of Parliament for East Cambs (and previously a Member of the Cabinet).  It had been a very good meeting and Mr Paice had asked lots of pertinent questions.

 

It had become clear during the meeting that Mr Pace knew very little about the ARP and Members felt that other such meetings should be part of an on-going process to publicise the importance of the work of the ARP. 

 

The Head of Shared Services had received a letter from Mr Pace as a result of the meeting and was in the process of drafting a response.


Members of the Joint Committee had also met with Claire Cooper Deputy Director from the CLG.  That had been another successful meeting.  The CLG had not been aware how much the Welfare Reform Act would impact on rural areas.

 

The Chairman thought the meetings should both be mentioned in the Minutes and the Head of Shared Services agreed to provide a report on them for the next meeting.<1>

48.

Apologies (Agenda Item 2)

To receive apologies for absence.

Minutes:

Apologies had been received from Ann Gower who had now stood down from the ARP Joint Committee due to increased commitments from other work.

49.

Urgent Business (Agenda Item 3)

To note whether the Chairman proposes to accept any items of urgent business pursuant to Section 100(B)(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972.

Minutes:

None.

50.

Declarations (Agenda Item 4)

Minutes:

Mr R Everitt declared a non-pecuniary interest as he was on the Board of Havebury Housing Association and the ARP worked with that organisation.

51.

Health & Safety Policy (Agenda Item 5) pdf icon PDF 62 KB

Report presented by Martin Hosker.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chairman welcomed Martin Hosker, Health & Safety Manager for St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath Councils, who was in attendance to present his report.

 

Mr Hosker explained that under Safety Law each employee had a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure their own and others’ safety.  All other health and safety policies not included on the list would go back to the normal employing authority for adoption.

 

The following questions were answered:

 

·   Page 33 – what was Crysis?  A 24 hour service that raised the alarm if employees did not log in with them at the end of an out-of office / out of hours visit.

·   Page 36 – did the ARP have Welfare Officers?  That was up to each individual employing authority.

·   Page 20 – did the ARP have Fire supervisors and a Fire Drill Policy – Fire supervisors were being discussed with the landlord and yes, the last surprise fire drill had been carried out satisfactorily.

 

The Head of Shared Services noted that the staff had recently undergone a survey to gauge how they felt a year on from expansion, with reference to work and associated stress.  Mr Hosker was working with the HR Teams to analyse the responses and to produce an action plan with staff.

 

The Assistant Director for Commissioning (Breckland) advised that Breckland Council was the landlord for the ARP Offices and as such had Health and Safety duties which sat alongside the proposed Policy.

 

The Deputy Chief Executive (East Cambs) thought it would be worth having a dialogue with East Cambs District Council as they had staff from other authorities working in their offices at Ely.

 

RESOLVED that the ARP Joint Health & Safety Policy be adopted.

52.

Fraud (Standing Item)(Agenda Item 6) pdf icon PDF 83 KB

Report of the Fraud and Visits Team Manager.

Minutes:

The Fraud and Visits Team Manager was in attendance for this item. 

 

The report gave details of the work of the Compliance Team and how it dealt with referrals.  It gave a comparison between Quarter one 2012 and 2011 which showed a steady work rate with the exception of St Edmundsbury.  The large increase there was explained in the note on page 106.  The sanctions available to the team were set out in Appendix A.

 

The report also had a section on the Welfare Reform Act and how that might affect fraud prevention and detection.  Information was still limited about how it would work.

 

The Head of Shared Services advised that she would be taking a paper to the Operational Improvements Board (OIB) regarding Fraud, which would then be referred to the Joint Committee.

 

Mr Moakes asked if there were comparative figures available from other parts of the country as that would help to show how well ARP was performing.  The Operations Manager agreed to check if the DWP published those statistics.<1>

 

The Fraud and Visits Team Manager was asked what impact the Welfare Reform Act would have on her work.  The Head of Shared Services advised that although the Government were intending to take over fraud investigations for Housing benefit, the team would still be managing the Local Council Tax Support scheme.  There were also other areas of responsibility coming forward which would be included in the report to the OIB.  She hoped to find out more at a conference in October.

 

Mr Millar asked if there were any trends regarding fraud and whether the recession had caused an increase in fraud cases and was advised that there were many different reasons, some of which were outright attempts to defraud, others were cases of people slipping into fraudulent behaviours due to difficult financial circumstances.  Once a case had been investigated Officers had a number of different sanctions which they could apply.  There did seem to have been an increase in cases due to financial hardship.

 

Mr Millar asked if Officers had clear guidance on discretion and was advised that the current policy gave various options.  How that would change under the new Regulations was not clear.

 

Mr Millar was concerned that with the introduction of Universal Credit the Officers needed to be given freedom of discretion during the transition period.  If the policy needed amending that would have to be agreed before April which was only six months away.

 

The Chairman was confident that policies were fit for purpose currently and that if they needed adjusting the officers would point that out and it could be done at the next meeting or if necessary an extra meeting could be called.

 

The Fraud and Visits Team Manager was thanked for her report which was noted.

 

53.

Performance Report (Standing Item)(Agenda Item 7)

Reports of the Operational Board:

53a

Operational Performance pdf icon PDF 75 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Operations Manager had tabled the draft August Performance report but ran through the July figures first.

 

The red overpayment figure for Forest Heath was caused by two significantly large overpayments which had both gone to appeal.  The Tribunal Service would make a decision on those, but they were behind with appeals.

 

There had been a massive increase in workload due to the number of changes to circumstances being received.  (There had been 1700 changes to Tax Credits in August for just one authority).

 

There had also been a change in the way that the ARP was notified of changes by the DWP which was now through an Automated Transfer to Local Authorities (ATLAS) system, but it was not working well.  There were a number of problems including wrong, out of date and duplicate information being sent.  A letter was being sent to the DWP outlining the problems.

 

On a normal day the ARP dealt with between six and eight hundred changes.  Tax Credits were over and above that so it was a huge amount of additional work which was impacting on the time taken to process claims.  That explained the increased number of red indicators in the August report.

 

Additional temporary staff had been brought in to try to address the problem.  At their peak there had been a backlog of over 3,000 processes.  Things were now moving in the right direction.  Over the last four to five weeks the backlog had been reduced to 1500 and it was hoped that things would return to normal by November, although some things were beyond the ARP’s control and so it could not be certain that all indicators would be green.

 

Mr Claussen asked about the effects of the trial Further Recovery Officer.  The Operations Manager advised that the additional funding from the DWP had provided for extra staff to collect overpaid housing benefit and to pursue those that would not pay.  A report would be made through the OIB to the December Joint Committee showing the results of the first two quarters.  So far £300,000 of debt had been identified across the authorities.  In a number of cases of arrears there had been an attempt to engage with Social Services as some involved people in severe difficulty who could qualify for exemptions due to being severely mentally impaired.  In those cases the debt increased year on year and there was no chance of recovery.

 

Some minor anomalies were noted in the August report but it was pointed out that it was in draft only and would be amended.

 

The reports were noted.

53b

Financial Performance pdf icon PDF 56 KB

Minutes:

The Assistant Director of Finance (Breckland) presented the financial performance report to the end of the year.  There was currently an under-spend of £45,000 which equated to less than one percent and he commended the Officers for managing the budget so well.

 

The figures would continue to be monitored closely.

 

Mr Moakes thanked the Officers for the quality of the information.

 

The report was noted.

54.

Future Strategy (Agenda Item 8) pdf icon PDF 61 KB

To discuss future strategy and the delivery vehicle.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chief Executive (Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury) apologised for the lateness of the report which had followed on from a meeting of the four Chief Executives.

 

He wished to check that the recommendations in the report covered the full extent of the issues to be addressed.

 

The report included suggestions on process and timetable which would be formalised and circulated outside the meeting.  The Chief Executives were working with the Operational Improvement Board.  They would bring a substantive update to the December meeting and follow that with implementable recommendations at the March meeting.

 

The Appendix to the report set out the issues, including those specific to individual authorities.  They had been keen to reflect on the strengths of the Partnership to date and thought it was important not to lose sight of the benefits and cost savings.  However, there was room for improvement and certain areas had been identified.  They needed to gear up for changes as they happened.

 

He asked if there were any areas excluded that Members wished to have included.

 

It was confirmed that the Chief Executive of Waveney & Suffolk Coastal had been involved in the discussions.

 

Mr Moakes thought that the report exactly set out what needed to be considered.  The only gap was in the need to educate elected Members, MPs and opinion formers.  The ARP was a good organisation doing a good job and not enough people knew that.  As a significant organisation it had an important part to play in decision making at the highest level.  That needed to be added to the areas for improvement.

 

Mr Smith shared that view.  He was also concerned that the increased number of Partners made governance more difficult and he felt that a review of those arrangements was needed.  He suggested that the Partnership was big enough and should look at a Hub approach for the future.  He was pleased that the relationship between the ARP and ARPT was to be looked at.

 

Mr Claussen wanted the Partnership to be on the ‘front foot’.  If ATLAS (the DWP system) was not working the ARP should be in a position to pick up that work.  His initial observation was that the Partnership should be pro-active.

 

Mr Millar thought that it was essential for the Partnership that Members expressed a clear view on the future direction and functions it wanted to deliver.

 

The Chief Executive (Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury) said that they would be presenting options to the Committee on how to move forward in the future.  They would work through the options and provide recommendations.  They would also look at trading opportunities and discuss options and choices.

 

The Assistant Director for Commissioning (Breckland) noted that there were no reserves to pay for any external assistance (mentioned at point 4.1 of the report).

 

Members thanked the Chief Executive (Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury) for stimulating a useful debate.

 

55.

Welfare Reform (Standing Item)(Agenda Item 9)

Minutes:

The Head of Shared Services said that there was very little to report due to the Parliamentary recess.  Each Local Authority was consulting with stakeholders regarding Local Council Tax Support and those consultations would continue until the end of October.

 

There was also a consultation from the CLG regarding Local Council Tax Support and how it might affect Parishes and their funding.  It now looked as if the original intention would change to a very similar funding approach to that used with Council Tax Benefit.

 

There was a lot happening with Non-Domestic Rates but at the moment there were more questions than answers.  She hoped to be able to provide a more informative update to the next meeting.

56.

Forthcoming Issues (Standing Item)(Agenda Item 10)

To note any items.

Minutes:

None.

57.

Next Meeting (Agenda Item 11)

To note the arrangements for the next meeting to be held on 13 December 2012.

Minutes:

It was noted that the next meeting on 13 December would start at 2pm.  It would be preceded by a pre-meeting for Members only, commencing at 1pm, at which a light lunch would be available.