Benefit bites the dust

Housing benefit: end is nigh?

Several local authorities have begun piloting a new “local
housing allowance” which is intended to replace housing benefit.
Although the results from the initial pilots have yet to be
evaluated, let alone announced, it looks as if the Department for
Work and Pensions is to press ahead with these allowances

Tenants will receive a flat-rate of benefit, linked to family
size, instead of a payment based on the rent level of the property
they live in.

Nine councils will start implementing LHA from April 2005. These
are (with go-live dates): Wandsworth, London (11 April), East
Riding of Yorkshire (18 April), St Helens (23 May), Argyll and Bute
(30 May), South Norfolk (6 June), Norwich (13 June), Pembrokeshire
(20 June), Guildford (4 July) and Salford (25 July).

The government has the intention of rolling out the LHA
nationally for private tenants by March 2008. When it will begin to
be applied to tenants in council or housing association properties
is unknown. For more, see

Pension changes afoot

The pension service is looking very closely at how it deliver
services to older people. Most of its service is, of course,
provided by remote regional pension centres, contactable only by

However, locally, the service has been providing advice
surgeries and other outreach work. These local services have now
been placed under national control and have had their work
“reviewed”. One conclusion is that local pension service staff
should concentrate on home visits and “appointment-only” rather
than “drop-in” outreach sessions.

The pension service is at great pains to emphasise that this is
not a reduction in service. It is based, they say, on the
recognition that most customers who are able to attend drop-in
surgeries and events are not the most vulnerable older people that
it is funded to access and support.

However, the level of service offered by the remote pension
centres is a cause of concern. In one office, for example, we have
been told that all the claims from one county are in boxes, waiting
to be assessed, so it is not possible to locate a claim waiting to
be processed. Any post sent in will not be linked to the new claim
before it is processed, which means the assessment may well turn
out to be incorrect!

Utilities for the vulnerable

Early last year there was considerable media interest in the
case of an older couple who were found dead after having had their
gas supply disconnected. The utility firm claimed that it had been
unable to alert social services to the couple’s situation because
of the Data Protection Act. In response, the Energy Retail
Association, representing the suppliers, has issued a new document:
Protecting Vulnerable Customers from Disconnection (order from ERA
on 020 7747 2932; or from

This document sets out how social services staff can help
prevent vulnerable people from being disconnected. It claims that,
in 2003, suppliers recorded that four gas and seven electricity
customers were disconnected who were either pensioners, disabled or
chronically ill. Since December 2003 no vulnerable customers, based
on a revised definition, have been disconnected. These figures
sounds far-fetched to me!

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire
Council. If you have a question to be answered please write to him
c/o Community Care


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