As one of the more deprived areas within Kent, Folkestone and Hythe Council prioritises serving the most vulnerable residents first with the best care, yet they were struggling to reach these residents before crisis hit. Administrative workloads were hindering processes and were to blame for the delay.
The council has around 52,000 households paying council tax, 8,000 of whom are in receipt of housing benefit. With access to rich data sources the Revenues and Benefits team, lead by Jane Worrell, decided to purchase Policy in Practice’s LIFT platform to analyse their administrative data effectively. The insights that LIFT has unlocked allow the council to identify the most vulnerable households, target support to them and track change over time.
After seeing a demo of LIFT at the IRRV conference in 2017, Jane was amazed “at the way it took a very large number [of households] and broke it down so that we could do it [target support] in manageable chunks”. Reaching those in crisis has always been a high priority and LIFT has proved invaluable in identifying those most at risk.
We really are a district of contrasts. Due to our proximity with London and the continent we have multi-millionaires but we also have pockets of deprivation in our urban areas. We have a relatively high pension age which means we have long-term care needs to budget for. We have landlords in control of bedsit accommodation which is transient and low income, and a number of our residents don’t have English as a first language.
First data-led campaign yields a 44% uptake in Pension Credit, worth £676,000, after ten days
Jane’s team quickly began using LIFT to support their mixed-age pensioner campaign, with great success. Under a tight deadline, the team got to work straight away with LIFT and identified a group of 98 potential claimants. They made phone calls to encourage the couples to apply for pension credit, which would also make them eligible for a free TV license.
After just 10 days 51 new people were claiming Pension Credit, an uptake of 44%. As Jane says:
There are 51 households claiming Pension Credits which, for a couple, is worth £255 per week. This means £676,000 annually has been brought into our district which I think is an awesome result for what was, in realistic terms, a few afternoons by three benefit staff.
The new data-led way of identifying vulnerability was established, filling the team with the confidence to push forward with other benefit take-up campaigns focused on groups such as children under five, self-employed people and those eligible for the Severe Disability Premium.
Data analysis provides unexpected added value
The team also found added value from their data analysis in other areas. Using LIFT they detected fraud cases that were not on their radar, which Jane says would never have been discovered without LIFT. She noted that it gave the previous file management more structure and allowed them to use their resources in a more effective way.
The feedback from residents on the benefit take-up campaigns has been phenomenal and has helped them gain trust within the council.
A county-wide approach to using LIFT will enable greater protection to residents
As a district council Folkestone and Hythe don’t have the same datasets available as a county. As the team looks to post COVID-19 recovery they are excited about the county-wide approach being taken in Kent that sees other districts and the county council using LIFT to get actionable insights.
Folkestone and Hythe are particularly concerned about protecting first-time claimants who have no knowledge of the benefits system, as well as the potential crisis as the furlough scheme comes to an end and predicted levels of unemployment rise across their district and county.
Data analysis and COVID-19 recovery
No one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, nor how it would affect the financial resilience of residents across the country. In March 2020 alone, Folkestone and Hythe saw an increase of 525 cases which has now risen to 2,000. Thankfully the team had redesigned their Council Tax Support Scheme in 2019 which put them in a better position to support people who were new to the benefit system and Universal Credit.
The CTRS changes the council had introduced meant that Universal Credit claimants were automatically granted Council Tax Reduction, which meant that they were added to LIFT’s datasets immediately. LIFT gave the council visibility of newly vulnerable people which meant they could target support to them early.
More recently, Folkestone and Hythe identified people who were receiving Universal Credit but not Council Tax Reduction. Starting with the most vulnerable people, this group has now been successfully awarded support of over £1.1 million to help with payments towards council tax.
LIFT helps prepare for an uncertain future
One of the most important decisions Folkestone and Hythe made with LIFT platform was to allocate dedicated resources to get the most out of the tool. Within Jane’s small team one person works full-time on identifying the households who are most in need, downloading the actionable lists produced by the platform which fuel the poverty prevention campaigns.
Whilst 2020 has been a challenge, Folkestone and Hythe District Council knows that really hard work is ahead. Furlough will end, unemployment may go up and wage freezes begin to take effect. LIFT gives the team the best tool to analyse their data sets now in order to plan and prepare for the months ahead.