Council tax benefit provides financial assistance with payment of council tax bills to people on low income and plays an important role in helping to combat pensioner and child poverty. Modernising and simplifying the claims process is a key part of the Department's strategy to increase benefit take-up among both pensioners and people of working age. We are also introducing a range of measures to improve awareness among staff, customers and advisers of the help that council tax benefit can give to people both in and out of work.
The main focus of activity to help poorer pensioners has been the automation of the claims process. In December 2005 a shortened, three page claim form was introduced for housing benefit and council tax benefit replacing a claim form that ran to 28 pages. Completion of the form was undertaken on behalf of the customer by officials in the Pension, Disability and Carers Service at the same time as a claim to pension credit was made over the telephone. The form was then sent to the customer to check and sign and return to the local authority.
From November 2008, the need for the customer to complete and sign a claim form was removed and housing benefit and council tax benefit claims data have been sent direct to the local authority.
This automated claims process has been further enhanced and since January 2010, all local authorities are able to receive secure electronic transfer of data making the claiming process virtually automatic for all pensioner customers.
Jobcentre Plus has successfully rolled out a new process which makes claiming benefits, including council tax benefit, easier and faster for people moving into and out of employment. The in and out of work process involves Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and local authorities, working with Jobcentre Plus to smooth the transition for customers moving in and out of work reducing the number of organisations the customer has to contact at the point they make a new claim or when they start work. Jobcentre Plus gathers all the information and evidence that is needed for housing benefit, council tax benefit and tax credits improving the speed and accuracy of information sharing so that the right benefit is paid more quickly.
The Department continues to explore ways to make the claiming process more automatic through wider use of data sharing and also by data matching to assist local authorities to identify customers with potential entitlement. It will continue to look for service improvements on offer to pensioners for example by partnership working with local authorities and other agencies and signposting to the most appropriate contact point too pursue a benefit claim.