Court of Appeal rules housing associations ARE public bodies
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is bidding to overturn a Court of Appeal (CoA) decision which ruled that the size criteria in the housing benefit regulations discriminate against disabled people.
Last month the CoA said the regulations were discriminatory, because they do not allow for an additional room to be paid for where a disabled person has a carer, or where two children cannot share a room because of disability.
Independently of the court case, the Government has amended the rules to recognise that some people need an additional room for an overnight carer who lives elsewhere. Those changes came into effect in April last year.
However, following the decision in one of the three cases – considered together by the court – it is now under pressure to amend the regulations for families with disabled children.
The crucial case concerned that of Mr Richard Gorry – represented by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) – who has two disabled daughters who cannot share a room because of the nature of their disabilities. The family could only claim for a three bedroom home, so the two disabled children would have to share a bedroom. Their disabilities, argued Mr Gorry, made this impossible.
Alison Garnham, the Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said last month: “In this case it was clearly not possible for two children, one with Spina Bifida and another with Down Syndrome, to share a single bedroom with such different demands and needs. It’s absolutely right that the housing benefit system should respond to challenges like this, and it is clear discrimination if it does not.
“Disabled people and their families and carers are being assaulted by a series of unjust and arbitrary cuts. This ruling goes some way to mitigating the effects of the cuts, but children and adults are still being made the unfair target of the Coalition’s austerity agenda.”
Sarah Clarke, a solicitor at the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said pending the Government’s appeal decision, the ruling will have ramifications for the size criteria being introduced in the social sector next April.
Under current plans around 670,000 social tenants – two-thirds containing a disabled family member – face losing an average of £13 per week because they are deemed to have one or more additional bedrooms.
She said: “It will affect it, but at the moment they could still appeal. It will only be people that have a disability that means they can’t share a room. It will depend on the facts. It won’t be a large number of claimants. The court said it effects a small group of people.”
The Government is understood to be disappointed by the ruling, given that the Upper Tribunal had previously held that the provision made by way of housing benefit was not discriminatory when viewed as part of the wider range of social security benefits available to people with disabilities.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We have made an application for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal and a response from the Court is awaited.”
DWP – Local authority staff > Performance and good practice > Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Good Practice Guide >
Purpose of guide
The main purpose of this guide is to help local authorities (LAs):
- manage their benefits services more effectively and efficiently; and
- provide some context and set out how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will work with individual LAs to support performance improvement
It has been built up over time through contributions from key stakeholders and organisations, such as individual LAs and DWP’s Performance Development Team (PDT).
Where possible, we have attempted to provide good practice that could be applied across a range of different LAs, regardless of their size, location and main customer demographic. However, as with all good practice, it is up to each LA to decide what and how much of the content to adopt. Much will depend on LAs’ existing set-ups and processes in place. Some of the good practice provides guidance in setting up what might be new ways of working, such as shared services and joint working.
We have produced the guide as an electronic version only and throughout the guide you will find links to other useful websites and resources.
Background – HB/CTB Performance Framework
This is based on the principle that it is for LAs to manage their benefits services, but that DWP has interests arising from:
- its funding of the schemes
- the need to know its policies and strategies are delivering
In addition DWP is working with LAs, their associations and other stakeholders to deliver welfare reforms so that LAs and benefit recipients are prepared for the changes, the changes are introduced as smoothly as possible and services remain satisfactory over the transition period(s).
The framework reflects the Government’s localism and decentralisation agendas and the significant improvements in HB/CTB administration that local authorities have delivered in recent years. At the same time it also reflects the need to deliver the Government’s ambitions for radical reform of the welfare state, improved value for money (by amongst other things preventing, identifying and eliminating more cases of fraud and error) and the need to maintain and improve the service delivered to the public.
Operational and performance related information
DWP set no HB/CTB performance indicators or targets but publishes key HB/CTB data which it can consider when looking at HB/CTB operational and performance matters. This includes:
- information derived from the Single Housing Benefit Extract, including caseload information and speed of processing information
- Housing Benefit recoveries and fraud data
Setting levels of service
DWP does not set indicators or targets for HB/CTB services.LAs should be seeking to deliver continuous improvement and LAs who are doing less well looking to make the greatest improvements.
DWP expects LAs, in managing their own benefits services, to set their own levels of service across a range of activities – driven by the need to deliver continuous improvement, take account of local needs, maximise value for money and taking account of the need to deliver the right benefit to the right person.
DWP engagement and support
DWP can contact a LA to discuss operational matters if the data we have for an LA (or the absence of it) suggests some cause for concern or we have other information that suggests a problem that DWP may be able to help resolve or needs assurance that the matter is being addressed.
This approach is intended to minimise the use of the Secretary of State’s statutory powers, such as inspection and direction.
An LA may also contact DWP direct to discuss concerns about its service.
Please note that in Scotland and Wales the audit bodies determine their engagements with LAs and can report on HB/CTB services their approach reflects the different arrangements that are in place in the country in which they operate. DWP liaises with the audit bodies as necessary and DWP’s Secretary of State can be copied in on any report the audit bodies produce that is concerned with HB/CTB administration and can act on it accordingly.
Performance Development Team Support
The PDT is comprised of performance specialists and works with individual and groups of LAs to help them become more efficient and improve performance.
The team’s help is paid for by DWP but LAs have to invest the time and resources needed to achieve improvements. LAs are responsible for delivering improvement plans. In return for our investment, the PDT simply asks that authorities keep DWP informed of progress so that it can be sure improvements in the delivery of public services are realised.
The PDT is available to assist LAs in areas such as:
- working with councils to eliminate delay and duplication from their processes and increase their effectiveness and efficiency using, for example, Lean principles and reducing the time taken to obtain information in support of a claim
- helping councils explore the feasibility of sharing HB/CTB services to generate economies and efficiencies
- assisting councils that want to improve their management of HB/CTB overpayments so that loss is minimised through more efficient and effective prevention and recovery action
- developing partnerships with groups or individual councils to help them plan, implement and manage specific projects, for example:
- home working
- management of overpayments
- minimising loss of subsidy.
How to use this guide
The guide is divided into three main parts:
- Part One – Good Practice – contains all the good practice.
- Part Two – Helpful tools and checklists – contains useful resources, such as helpful tools and checklists.
- Part Three – Claim form design good practice – contains good practice guidance for producing forms.
The guide is regularly reviewed to ensure it remains up to date and relevant. All important new additions and changes to the guide are shown on the Updates page.