This survey by the Audit Commission reveals the impact of the recession on demand for benefits and how councils are responding.
Caseloads increased by 7.1 per cent in all types of council and all regions between April 2008 and April 2009. The increases ranged from 0.2 to 28 per cent.
In the six months before April 2009, applications for discretionary housing payments increased in sixty-nine per cent of councils surveyed. Eighty-two per cent reported higher demand for debt counselling.
Most councils have changed aspects of their approach in response to these increases. All councils received additional funds from the Department for Work and Pensions to help them deal with higher caseloads and the most common use of the money was to pay for more staff.
Forty-seven per cent have increased funding for debt counselling or money advice services in 2009. Forty-six per cent particularly targeted take-up advice to people who had lost or were in danger of losing their jobs, often in partnership with other agencies.
Heads of benefits services had a number of concerns about the future. Twenty-eight per cent were more concerned about fraud in June 2009 than in June 2008. They felt that higher caseloads might reduce the staff resources available for preventing and detecting fraud and error. Some stated that they were struggling to manage the additional demand on their services.
The survey is available from the Audit Commission.