Discussions at ministerial level took place during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill and the Government agreed that changing the name of council tax benefit to council tax rebate could have a positive impact on benefit take-up. We want to make the change at the earliest opportunity and discussion take place between officials of Department for Work and Pensions and Communities and Local Government as part of the process for achieving that.
(2) what advice her Department issued to local authorities on renaming council tax benefit as council tax rebate;
(3) what estimate her Department has made of the number of local authorities whose IT systems are able to facilitate the renaming of council tax benefit as council tax rebate; and how many local authorities have informed her Department that their IT systems are unable to facilitate this change;
(4) pursuant to the oral answer to the hon. Member for New Forest West of 15 March 2010, Official Report, column 607, on council tax benefit, what practical issues other than IT systems her Department has identified as barriers to renaming council tax benefit as council tax rebate; what steps her Department is taking to tackle those issues; and if she will make a statement;
(5) what assessment she has made of the changes required to local authority IT systems to update the change of name; and if she will make a statement;
(6) what surveys her Department has undertaken of local authorities to assess the capacity of their IT systems to facilitate the renaming of council tax benefit as council tax rebate.
Renaming council tax benefit will have significant impact on the administration of the benefit, with major delivery implications for local authorities. The main impact will be on IT systems, including where these link to Department for Work and Pensions systems. There will also be necessary changes to forms, leaflets and billing arrangements in order to give accurate information to existing customers, and maximise the impact of the change in improving take-up.
Officials are engaging with local authorities in a number of ways. There have been preliminary formal discussions with the local authority associations and with practitioners from local authorities. This will be followed by more detailed survey of the requirements of individual authorities. Proposals have been outlined to the local authority software suppliers to enable them to start to prepare requirements and costs for the changes and enhancements to IT systems.
The Government want to ensure people get the help they are entitled to with their council tax bills and has an ongoing programme of work to encourage them to claim. Renaming council tax benefit as a rebate would help remove a barrier that may prevent some people claiming and we have taken steps to make this important change. We have not made an assessment at this time of the precise impact on take-up that renaming council tax benefit may have but are gathering data that will enable us to make a robust estimate of the additional number of people who would claim council tax rebate.
The powers we have taken in the Welfare Reform Act 2009 will enable us to make the change of name to council tax rebate quickly through an order, once we have established a timetable that takes into account the full costs and implementation requirements of local authorities.