Housing Benefit Size Criteria from April 2013

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Residents, Your money

Size criteria will now be applied in the social rented sector (eg council and housing association properties). This means that people living in houses larger than they need (under-occupiers) will have to move to somewhere smaller or make up the difference in rent because their Housing Benefit will be reduced:

  • 14% cut in Housing Benefit if you under-occupy by one bedroom
  • 25% cut in Housing Benefit if you under-occupy by two or more bedrooms

This change is for working-age people only. The size criteria is as follows

  • 1 bedroom for each adult or adult couple plus
  • 1 bedroom for every 2 children under the age of 10 (regardless of gender)
  • 1 bedroom for every 2 children under the age of 16 if they are the same gender
  • 1 bedroom for any other child
  • 1 bedroom for a non resident carer if providing care for the tenant or their partner.

Below is a list of potential ideas that you could consider to help manage the potential shortfall in your rent.

  • Move home – Is there the ability to move to more appropriately sized social rented accommodation with the help of your landlord. Alternatively, have you considered looking at privately rented accommodation to find the right sized property for your household.
  • Rent out the spare bedroom(s) – Can you get the agreement with your landlord to take in a boarder or lodger to fill any unoccupied room? This would mean the room would not be treated as unoccupied for the purposes of applying the size criteria rule and you may find you are better off due to the additional income.
  • Have family members contribute more – If you have other non-dependants living in your property the excess rent may be covered through new or increased contributions.
  • Move in to work / increase hours – moving into work or increasing working hours may increase your income and help to cover any reduction in Housing Benefit.

Extra Help

Extra help will be made available by means of a Discretionary Housing Payment Fund for those who are affected by this change. This money is intended primarily for:

  • Those that have to remain in their property as it has been adapted to suit their disability.
  • Those who have to keep a room spare as they are registered foster carers.

Please note that the Discretionary Housing Payment fund has a limited budget. Once utlised no further monies is released from central government until the next financial year.

State Retirement Pension changes from April 2015

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Residents, Your money

It is proposed that means-tested pensioner benefits will be replaced by a new flat rate ‘Citizen’s Pension’ which is not linked to National Insurance contributions. A single pensioner will receive £140 per week and a couple will receive £280 per week.

The new ‘Citizen’s Pension’ will only apply to those who retire on or after the date the reform is introduced, not to people already receiving their pensions at that date. The current pension system will run alongside the new one until the last person receiving a pension under the current system dies.

The Social Fund Scheme Reform from April 2013

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Residents, Your money

The discretionary elements of the current social fund scheme that the Department for Work and Pensions operate will be instead administered by Local Authorities under a new scheme of their own design.

The elements of the existing social fund scheme in question are:

  • Community Care Grants and
  • Crisis Loans for Living Expenses

A yearly fund will be given to each Local Authority. It is then up to the Local Authority what type of scheme they set up to use the funds the Government has given them.

The design of the scheme has started to take place and more detail will be made available here once it is known.

District Council Tax frozen again

Written on . Posted in Council tax, Your council, Your money

Top of the table recycling by residents of Epping Forest has helped avoid increases to Council Tax. Residents will pay the same amount of Council Tax to Epping Forest District Council for the third year running. Councillors also agreed there would be no increase in Pay and Display Car Park charges.

Sixty per cent recycling rates put Epping Forest in the top-ten recycling districts in the whole country leading to big cuts in domestic refuse collection costs of £1 million. With contributions from the New Homes Bonus and a range of savings and efficiencies identified across service areas, councillors were able to balance cuts in Government funding and set a zero increase in Council Tax.

Civic Offices entrance

 Gross expenditure (excluding the Housing Revenue Account), the amount Epping Forest District Council spends before income is taken into account, will be £82 million next year, making it one of the most significant players in the local economy. However, only a little over £8 million is to be raised in Council Tax towards net expenditure budget of just under £15 million. The rest is made up from a combination of reduced government grants, fees, charges, investments and other income generated by the Council.

A savings target of £1.3 million has been achieved. Epping Forest District Council will protect front-line services while balancing large reductions in Central Government funding. Additional savings of almost £200,000 in 2011/12 have helped cushion the Council from one of the toughest spending rounds in memory. The protection of local services and freeze on Council Tax comes as many other councils announced major cuts in budgets and services.

Epping Forest Councillors met on Tuesday (14 February) to set the budget for the next Financial Year. They also received notifications of the budget levels to be set by Essex County Council and Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, which have also been frozen, Essex Police and the 24 local town and parish councils serving the district.

Broken down into its constituent parts, the total bill for an average Band D Council Taxpayer in Epping Forest district will be £1,438.65 (excluding parish or town expenses). Of this, only £148.77 goes to Epping Forest District Council.  In addition Epping Forest District Council collects £1,086.75 for Essex County Council, £136.71 for Essex Police, and £66.42 for Essex Fire Authority.

Parish and Town Council precepts will vary and can be seen on the attached table of precepting authorities.

Council Tax rates 2012 to 2013 (pdf 6 KB)
Changes to band D charges (pdf 5 KB)
Councillor Gagan Mohindra, Finance Portfolio Holder for Epping Forest District Council, said: “When the current refuse and recycling arrangements came in, we promised residents that they would feel the benefits in their wallets as well as the environment. However, I don’t think any of us appreciated how well our residents would respond or just how important the additional recycling credits would prove to be. Thanks to the fantastic efforts our residents have made to increase domestic household recycling, the savings on this part of the budget alone have almost balanced the cuts in Central Government funding next year.”

He continued: “Freezing the Council Tax at 2009 levels means effectively cutting it in real terms after inflation. However, the further economies achieved by the Council combined with income from  the New Homes Bonus means we have been able to set another remarkable budget in such difficult economic times.”

However, Councillor Mohindra remains cautious for the longer term. He said: “More Central Government cuts are in the pipeline. Changes to Council Tax benefits will see councils having to accommodate a ten per cent reduction in spending on current Central Government levels. Proposals for replacement of the Government Block Grant with local retention of NNDR (business rate) could also have serious repercussions, yet to be fully assessed. The economy remains in a very fragile position.

“I am proud to present this budget to the Council but I will not be complacent for the future. Epping Forest District Council must continue to search for innovation and greater efficiency in everything we do. We must remain committed to supporting our local economy, whether directly, for example, through holding down car park charges or indirectly by supporting partners such as the Epping Forest Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses. While business continues to struggle, support for the local economy must remain one of our greatest priorities and concerns.”


 Council Tax Rates 201213

 Changes in band D Charges

Changes to Local Housing Allowance (affecting private tenants only)

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Residents, Your money

The rules surrounding Local Housing Allowance (LHA) do change from time to time. this page details the most recent changes as well as upcoming changes.

April 2011

  • LHA is only payable for shared accommodation, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, 3 bedroom and 4 bedroom properties.
  • The £15.00 excess which was payable if the amount of Local Housing Allowance received is more than the rent charged stopped. This stopped immediately for new claims made after 1st April 2011 but at a later date for existing claims.
  • LHA rules now includes provisions for a carer that has to stay overnight to look after a disabled claimant or partner but does not usually live as part of the household (providing the property has a separate bedroom for the carer to sleep in.) For example a disabled customer that lives in a 2 bedroom property prior to April 2011 would be restricted to the 1 bed rate, but after April 2011 they would be entitled to the 2 bedroom property.

These new rules came into force for all new claims from the 1st April 2011. For existing customers receiving Local Housing Allowance the changes will not take effect until one of the following happens

  • change of address, or
  • number of people in the home changes so that a new Local Housing Allowance level applies, or
  • the first anniversary date after 1st April 2011 is reached. However for customers who reach their anniversary date there is an 9 month transitional protection. This means that the old rate will continue for a further 9 months.

January 2012

From 1st January 2012 the government is bringing in further changes to certain people who receive Housing Benefit via the Local Housing Allowance scheme and Housing Benefit via the scheme prior to Local Housing Allowance.

The change is going to affect single claimants who are under the age of 35.

Currently single people under the age of 25 are only entitled to the shared accommodation rate of Local Housing Allowance or the Single Room Rate of a Rent Officer Decision for the scheme prior to Local Housing Allowance.

NOTE: By single people we mean living by themselves with no partner, no dependant children, no non dependants, no carer and no sub tenants.

From 1st January 2012 this age restriction will increase from 25 to 35 years old. This means that single people under the age of 35 will be restricted to the lower shared accommodation Local Housing Allowance rate OR the single room rate of a Rent Officer Decision.

When will the change take effect?

The date that the change will take effect is different for new claimants than it is for existing claimants.

New Claimants – For those claiming benefit after 1st January 2012, if you are single and under 35 you will come immediately under the new rules.

Existing Claimants – For existing claimants there 2 different ways that the changes will come into effect. If you are single and under 35 and

  • you are currently receiving the Transitional Protection for the Local Housing Allowance April 2011 changes (see above) you will start receiving the lower shared accommodation rate once your 9 months transitional protection runs out.
  • you are not receiving the transitional protection because you made your claim after 1st April 2011 but before 1st January 2012 OR you receive the Housing Benefit scheme prior to Local Housing Allowance, you will move to the lower shared accommodation rate on the anniversary of your claim.

Exceptions to the change

The following groups of people are exempt for the new rules and will not be restricted to the shared accommodation rate or single room rent.

  • If you are in receipt of middle or high rate care component of Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance.
  • If you are an ex offender subject to the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements.
  • If you have spent at least 3 months in a homeless hostel or a series of homeless hostel that specialise in rehabilitating and resettlement in the community. NOTE: In order to qualify for the exemption you will need to have been offered and accepted support services to enable you to be rehabilitated or resettled into the community.

Green light for Harlow Enterprise Zone bid

Written on . Posted in Business, Local business, Supporting business, Your money

The economy has been given a major boost after the government gave the green light for an Enterprise Zone to be created in Harlow.

Essex County Council has welcomed the announcement by the Government that the Enterprise West Essex @ Harlow site is to become one of the 11 new zones across the country.

The announcement is expected to be marked with a visit by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to the Enterprise West Essex site.

The Enterprise Zone (EZ) will create a new 126-acre area to support high tech and medical technology companies which could create up to 5,000 new jobs.

Companies setting up in an EZ area will benefit from a simplified planning process, superfast broadband access and in some cases relief from business-rates which could amount to a saving of £275,000 over a five-year period.

The Harlow bid was one of two bids submitted to the government by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), a strategic body focusing on cross-border economic growth in the region.

Essex County Council Leader, Councillor Peter Martin, said: “The government’s backing for an enterprise zone in Harlow is fantastic news. The thousands of jobs this will create both directly and indirectly will be a major boost not just to the economies of Harlow and Essex, but the country as a whole. Essex is a vital cog in the country’s economic motor, and this kind of initiative will ensure that we are in a position to continue to help drive the country forward.”

Councillor Andrew Johnson, leader of Harlow Council, said: “This Government backing is a great boost for Harlow during these difficult times and shows Harlow is most definitely open for business. Harlow already has a great name in technology and is superbly placed between London and Cambridge, with all the road, rail and air links any company could want. We want to attract and retain businesses in Harlow and support them in their growth whilst providing jobs for local people that match their aspiration. The Enterprise Zone status gives us that opportunity.”

Council Tax Frozen and Consultation on Savings

Written on . Posted in Council tax, Democracy, Residents, Your council, Your money

Council Tax for most residents of Epping Forest will be frozen next year after the main precepting authorities declared zero increases. Epping Forest District Council, Essex County Council, Essex Fire Authority and Essex Police Authority all set the same Council Tax as last year. Some residents will see minor changes to their bills depending on the precepts set by their local town or parish council.

Epping Forest District Council Civic Offices

Council Tax precepts remain the same despite large cuts in government funding. Authorities have warned of cuts in services. Essex County Council has announced job losses and service reductions. Epping Forest District Council, which has a history of prudent financial management, has not had to make major savings in next year`s services but is preparing for potentially significant reductions in 2012/13.

Broken down into its constituent parts, the total bill for an average Band D Council Taxpayer in Epping Forest district will be:

  • £1,086.75 to Essex County Council,
  • £132.12 to Essex Police,
  • £ 66.42 to Essex Fire Authority and
  • £148.77 to Epping Forest District Council.

Parish and Town Council precepts will vary from £12.95 for residents of Stapleford Abbotts to £94.46 in Waltham Abbey.

Councillor Chris Whitbread, Finance Portfolio Holder for Epping Forest District Council said: “Essex County Council is taking most of the headlines as it seeks to save millions of pounds from its budgets from April. Epping Forest District Council operates on a much smaller scale and we are in a stronger position. We are not planning significant reductions in district council services next year. The following year may be a different matter.  We won`t make any decisions until we have consulted local residents.”

He continued: “We are a debt-free, low-tax, streamlined council.  Some budgets have already gone down this year. We have taken steps to reduce gradually our costs and maximised our potential income from other sources, such as commercial property. Core services and support for the voluntary sector are being protected. The CAB for example will continue to receive over £113,000 next year. However, a 27 per cent decrease in our revenue support grant over the next two years means hard choices lie ahead.  Unfortunately we have had to make some difficult decisions already, for example we would have liked to have a lower rent increase for our tenants.  However, this has been largely outside of our control and we have invested heavily in recent years to ensure that all our property has met the Decent Homes Standard.

“On current estimates, over £1 million needs to be saved from Epping Forest District Council`s budgets from April 2012. That`s a lot on a £16 million budget but less than most comparable councils. Plans are now being drawn up to consult local residents.

“Over the summer everyone will have a chance to participate. There are many misunderstandings about who provides what. We will therefore issue information explaining the differences between us, Essex County Council and other public sector organisations so residents understand how reductions in district council budgets would affect them directly. Once we have the views of people who live and work in the district the hard work really begins as councillors start the budget setting process for 2012/13.”

Benefits Service Audit Commission Report

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Democracy, Our performance, Your council, Your money

Benefits Service Inspection Report May 2010

Epping Forest District Council is defending its Benefits Service following the publication of the Audit Commission`s report after its inspection earlier this year.

The Commission reported that the Benefits Service at Epping Forest District Council is `poor and has uncertain prospects for improvement`.

Deputy Leader of the Council and Portfolio Holder for Finance and Economic Development Councillor Chris Whitbread said: I am very disappointed with the conclusions of this report. I know that all Benefits staff work extremely hard in difficult circumstances to make sure Benefits applications are processed accurately and as quickly as is possible. The Audit Commission has stated that frontline staff also provide very good customer care to all our claimants.

Councillor Whitbread went on to say: Over the last 18 months or so, as a direct result of the Credit Crunch, workload has significantly increased with many more people coming to us to claim benefits. Many of these people have not had to do so before and therefore needed much more support.

He continued: The Council had to replace its benefit processing system during 2008/09 as the system in use had become obsolete. This involved the transfer of data between systems and resulted in processing systems not being available for six weeks. Once again, this has meant further delays.

The performance on new claim processing highlighted in the report was for 2008/09 and at an average of 47 days this was too slow. However, the Council has been actively working to reduce the waiting time for new claimants. The average performance for 2009/10 was 33 days, with the average in the final quarter being 28 days, and the Council is striving to reduce this further. Whilst the Audit Commission admits that customers reporting a change in circumstances experienced an improvement in performance little credit has been given for the improvement on new claims.

The Council was already working on improvements to the service, with a re-structure having been approved by Cabinet in July 2009. This restructure provided additional resources and enhanced the customer contact arrangements, which are praised in the report. It is accepted that more work could be done on increasing take up and there are some valid recommendations. The Benefits Service already had plans in place to address most of the issues raised and has produced a detailed response to each recommendation. For example, it will be advertising in local publications including the Council`s publication The Forester the availability of Benefits to those who may be unaware of what they could claim. However, some of the issues raised, such as criticism of the Reception facilities at the Civic Offices in Epping and opening hours of the service, will have to be dealt with corporately. Last month Cabinet approved the refurbishment of the Limes Farm Hall and it is planned to improve access to Council Services by locating Benefits and Housing staff on this site.

Councillor Whitbread concluded: We have taken on board the comments made by the Commission and I am confident that by the time we receive our next inspection, we will have improved. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to all Benefits staff for their dedication and hard work.

High Satisfaction and Low Rents for Council Tenants

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Community, Housing, Older people, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your home, Your money

An independent regulator says tenants of Epping Forest District Council have the lowest average rent and highest satisfaction levels in the district compared to the tenants of the six main housing associations that operate within the District. District Council tenants currently pay, on average, £74.86 per week and have an overall satisfaction rating of 84 per cent. The best performing housing association in the District charges, on average, £81.50 and has a tenant satisfaction level of 79.7 per cent. The figures can be found on the recently launched website of the Tenant Services Authority (TSA).

The TSA is the new regulator for housing associations and, from April 2010, local authority landlords. Its website enables tenants and landlords to compare rent levels and tenant satisfaction within any local authority area, simply by inserting their postcode.

Councillor David Stallan, Housing Portfolio Holder for Epping Forest District Council welcomed the latest findings. He said: We aim to do the best we can for our tenants. Although we work closely with housing associations in the District, which with our help have grown significantly, the Council is still the major provider of affordable housing in Epping Forest. We work very hard to provide the best quality housing service at the lowest possible rent. I would like to thank all those staff in Housing and associated areas of the Council for the great job they do.

In 2007, the Council`s Housing Directorate received the Cabinet Office`s Charter Mark for Customer Service Excellence in the Public Sector for a second time – for a further three years. In 2008, the Housing Directorate was also awarded the international ISO 9001 Quality Assurance Standard for the quality of its housing service for the third time.