To update Overview and Scrutiny on performance of the Council's Revenues and Benefits service, since it became part of ARP on 1 April 2014.
Councillor Mason welcomed attendees from Anglian Revenues Partnership (ARP), Councillor Mrs French and Sam Anthony to the meeting.
Members considered the Annual review of Anglia Revenues Partnership presented by Adrian Mills.
Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:
· Councillor Hay asked how the collection of arrears for Fenland compared in terms of percentages in relation to other partners across ARP. Adrian Mills informed the panel that they did not have the information to hand and would provide the exact figures after the meeting.
· Councillor Hay asked whether Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) were still not contributing to the recovery costs of the fraud team? Adrian Mills noted that whilst this was currently the case, under the new fraud hub they would be investing into resources to help conduct fraud recovery work. Councillor Mrs French clarified that CCC had agreed to invest a significant amount of money and that they were awaiting a signed agreement with a memorandum of understanding also being drafted.
· Councillor Hay asked whether the new civil enforcement initiative would be undertaken by ARP? Councillor Mrs French informed her that no decision had been made yet and that it was due for discussion in the new year.
· Councillor Yeulett questioned what increases in workload there had been for ARP regarding business rates? Adrian Mills explained that there had been an increase in workload for property registrations with businesses coming forward to apply for the various Government grants. He also noted that extra work had been undertaken regarding small business rate reliefs. Matthew Waite-Wright explained that there was an influx of registrations for business rates which created an extra workload. He also noted that they were required to make sure that all their current records were correct so that the right people could collect their grants. He explained that they also employed a third party to visit the small businesses who had not collected the small business rate relief to ensure that they had the right people registered. He noted that they were contemplating employing another third party to investigate whether there are any business rate properties that have been missed. Lorraine King added that the number of work items had increased by 39 percent compared to 2017 and the number of hereditaments had increased by 6 percent in the same period.
· Councillor Yeulett asked why other Council’s insist on different forms for universal credit? Adrian Mills explained that the Department for Work and Pensions customers are told to contact their local Council and complete another form for Council Tax support. He informed the panel that ARP have linked their Council Tax Support scheme to Universal Credit data share so that when customers claim Universal Credit this information is automatically treated as a claim for Council Tax support removing the need to complete separate forms. Councillor Yeulett asked for confirmation that they were confident in this process? Adrian Mills confirmed ARP were happy with the process and added that if a customer contacts ARP and it is spotted that they are not claiming Council Tax support they are encouraged to claim and supported through the process. He also noted that they were looking to streamline the process and make it possible to get a reclaim for previous months where they would have been eligible.
· Councillor Yeulett questioned what the term hereditament referred to? Adrian Mills explained that in this context it referred to properties.
· Councillor Miscandlon questioned how many fraud related prosecutions had been investigated on behalf of Fenland District Council and what percentage this was of the overall investigations and prosecutions? Matthew Waite-Wright noted that there were 11 ongoing cases across ARP. Adrian Mills noted that there had been no prosecutions in Fenland but that the funding from CCC would help expose more suitable cases for prosecutions with a value that is in the public interest. He noted that there would be conversations with S151 Officer to agree the approach going forward. Matthew Waite-Wright explained that criminal prosecutions are rare with only four live prosecutions across the ARP.
· Councillor Booth asked how many cases the enforcement agency deal with annually? Paul Corney answered that this was around 17000 across the whole of ARP and that these cases would be split relatively evenly across the partners. He noted that the overall will have rose slightly this year due to parking cases also being included.
· Councillor Booth questioned why there were only 2 complaints regarding enforcement compared to 17,000 cases? He noted his worry that complaints were not being captured and that there may be an issue in how complaints are being dealt with. Paul Corney noted that ARP monitor and record all complaints received and act when the complaints are justified. He noted there had been no justified complaints in enforcement and informed the panel that the team wore body cameras and that all complaints could be reviewed via these. He noted that enforcement works better as an in-house service as it allows the individuals situation to be considered. He noted that ARP offer advice and support where necessary to avoid heavy debts for those who cannot afford it.
· Councillor Booth reasserted that only having two complaints across 17000 cases may indicate an issue and that money collection was emotive and usually elicits complaints even when not founded. He suggested a review of the complaints process to ensure that all complaints are captured even when invalid. Adrian Mills confirmed that they can look at the complaints process and review this.
· Councillor Yeulett questioned whether there were any common challenges across ARP partners and if there were any specific challenges in Fenland? Adrian Mills explained that despite synergies in policies and procedures across the five partners there were areas that changed from Council to Council such as the Council Tax Support Scheme. He noted that these differences did not cause any administration issues and that staff were well trained in differences across the partnership.
· Councillor Mason asked how Fenland would benefit from the parking enforcement scheme and what the cost to Fenland would be? Paul Corney explained that Fenland will receive 15 percent of any net surplus fees and the two Council’s that bring the cases to the enforcement agency will receive 27.5 percent. He noted that in the unlikely event of any deficits, these will be divided by the same percentages.
· Councillor Mason thanked ARP, Councillor Mrs French and Sam Anthony for their time.
The annual review of Anglia Revenues Partnership was noted for information