Beleaguered housing benefit departments of councils already under fire from the Audit Commission for taking twice as long to process claims and doing it at four times the cost as similar councils, See Publicnet Briefing 31st October, have now been criticized by the DTLR. The charge is that they are failing to prepare for the ground breaking changes in care arrangements due to be launched in April 2003 when the Supporting People programme will join up housing-related support services for a wide range of vulnerable people such as the homeless, drugusers and those leaving institutions such as prison.An independent report produced by researchers at the University of York found a disturbing picture when they looked at how transitional arrangements, introduced in April 2000, are working. They found that senior officers and council members who were neither aware of the importance of the transitional arrangements nor did they understand them. They were also unaware of the importance of the Supporting People initiative. Much of the transitional arrangement work that has been done was considered to be flawed. The researchers found that Housing Benefit spend had been under estimated and the guidelines had not been applied consistently between and within local councils.
Effective implementation of the transitional arrangement is vital to the success of Supporting People. Local councils will administer the programme through grants, but the calculation of how much councils need to meet their obligations is being jeopardized by a lack of information. A major component of council budgets will be housing benefit and current arrangements do not separate housing benefit and other support costs. This information is also vital for councils to put in place contracts with support providers.
From today housing benefit department managers struggling to reduce the backlog of claims, while keeping a sharp lookout for fraud, will be able to read, either in hard copy or on CD-Rom, a definitive set of instructions for the run-up to 1 April 2003. DTLR say that the aim of the guidance is to ensure that open access to efficient services continues when Supporting People is introduced.