Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Concerned councils left overloaded by system crucial to government welfare reforms

DWP IT system causes benefit data backlog

Worried councils are reporting huge backlogs in their benefits departments due to problems with a new IT system vital to the government’s flagship benefit reforms.

Councils have seen backlogs of thousands of files, in some cases upwards of 10,000, build up under the automated transfers to local authority systems project, or ATLAS.

The system launched in phases from mid-2011 and sends councils daily information about everything from changes of address and phone numbers to tax credits.

Councils have reported that the backlogs mean they may be overpaying housing benefit and some blame increased rent arrears on the system.

David Ponton-Brown, revenues and benefits manager at Scarborough Council, said: ‘This has caused severe delays during the past year.’

Breckland Council wrote to the Department for Work and Pensions, which runs ATLAS, earlier in the year because of ‘problems including wrong, out of date and duplicate information being sent’.

The backlogs are particularly worrying because ATLAS forms an integral part of the DWP’s benefit cap, which comes into force in April 2013. And the DWP committee warned, in a report published yesterday, that the efficient transfer of data between DWP systems and ATLAS is vital ‘to the successful implementation of universal credit’.

The DWP committee was so concerned that it requested that the ‘DWP provides us with further details of the steps it has taken to ensure that its interface with local authority systems is robust’. It added: ‘It is not clear from the evidence we have received from the DWP whether the capacity currently exists to ensure information is passed accurately and quickly between central and local government.’

Inside Housing is aware of at least 17 councils that claim the quantity and quality of data supplied under ATLAS has seriously affected the performance of their benefits departments in 2012. Nottingham Council had a backlog of 17,743 pieces of information, East Herts and Stevenage councils’ joint revenues and benefits service had a backlog of more than 10,000 and Lincoln and North Kesteven councils’ joint service had a 50,000 backlog, at various stages of the year.

However, a DWP spokesperson said ATLAS is forecast to save £750 million in overpayments and will cut down on administrative time.

She added that the average time for processing changes of circumstances for housing benefit claims has fallen from 12 days to 10 days during 2011/12.

Readers' comments (20)

  • Rick Campbell

    Oh dear, it isn't going wonderfully well at all.

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  • From 12 days to 10 days and all for the cost of how many millions. The projected savings of £750 million will just be more claptrap and never materialise.

    they could have it down to 1 day if they only realised that the solution is NOT in an IT system.

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  • patatwirra

    sorry to change the subject.
    I came across this on NHF site
    http://www.housing.org.uk/policy/welfare_reform/%E2%80%98under-occupation%E2%80%99_penalty.aspx

    How will the bedroom tax operate under Universal Credit?


    FROM APRIL 13 joint tenancy cases the bedroom tax can still apply.

    Under UC Bedroom tax not applied in joint- tenancy cases.

    Does this mean that because my husband & I are joint tenants, we will be exempt from the bedroom tax, under UC

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  • Usual Suspect

    now there's a surprise!!

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  • raindrop

    My belly hurts from laughting

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  • Joe Halewood

    Patatwirra - unless you have unearthed something that nobody has seen before the bedroom tax will apply to joint tenancies and will come under UC. There is no difference whether its a single or joint tenancy as it is still a single HB claim.

    Back to article one point to add is that all this added workload comes at a time of reducing HB staff which is also part of UC plans as the uber-efficient IT system UCIT (often prefixed with a 'F') ...you know the one that has cost in excess of £2bn to link in the tax and benefit system..means in the minds of the colaition that they are not needed.

    Yes thats the same IT system we are told will deal with 5000 successful cases per day (thats 1.86m per year when running 24/7 and 365.25 days per year) ....with each case involving welfare benefit and housing benefit determinations....you know HB ....yes that one that has over 5m claimants and has to be be checked at least once every year....

    Now hang on, how can an IT system with a capacity of 1.86m cases per year cope with determining 5m+ HB cases alone in a year? You see why the 'F' is needed now?

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  • There would have been problems with the previous IT systems but that's no reason not to bring new systems in. If the naysayers had their way we'd all still be using paper instead of computers...

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  • Progressive Solutions Required

    All the councils need to do is employ more staff to meet the massive extra demand of administering the Ununiversal Benefit - but of course those Councils still need to factor in 20% cuts in staffing costs, as well as cuts in national funding of local benefit support costs.

    Couldn't the numbskull Tories see why this might prove to be a problem - stand by for the blame machine going into overdrive.

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  • Rick Campbell

    The blame machine has been in overdrive for a long time -- 'tis always the fault of social sector tenants.

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  • Martin Hilditch

    A couple of quick additions to add to some of the comments received so far. While the average time taken to process changes of circumstance for HB claimants was 10 calendar days for the first quarter of 2012/13, compared to 11 calendar days in the 1st quarter of 2011/12 a breakdown of the figures might be instructive. In April (2012/13) the average speed of processing changes of circumstances was nine days. This rose to 10 days in May and 11 days in June. So the next quarter's figures are probably important in terms of judging the cumulative impact of ATLAS.
    And in reply to 'P Righteousness' it is fair to say that none of the councils I spoke to were against ATLAS - most were broadly in favour. They were just unhappy with its impact so far and the amount of errors in the system which meant they felt they had to manually process much of the information rather than uploading it automatically.

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