Benefits claims surge puts pressure on staff

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Benefits bosses in Dacorum are facing ‘unprecedented demand’ with the number of cases now standing at more than 11,000.

The workload is so high that in July it was taking on average more than 43 days to process a new housing benefit or council tax claim, against a target of 23 days.

Dacorum Borough Council has pumped £100,000 into the benefits department to deal with the situation and in September the time fell back to just under 34 days.

A report to the council’s finance and resources scrutiny committe says: “There are currently no indications that caseload is decreasing. The overall caseload has increased from 10,971 in April to 11,021 in September.

“During 2012/13 to date the service has not yet achieved its target timescales for processing new claims. The target has been exceeded by at least nine days per claim so far this year but progress is now being made.”

The delays come against a backdrop of increasing numbers of people declaring themselves homeless, which charities blame on the economic slump and benefits changes.

The council is expecting to spend £160,000 on its homelessness service this year while plans have been drawn up to build a 33-bedded homeless hostel in Redbourn Road, Hemel Hempstead.

Under a government benefits shake-up council tax benefit is being abolished and replaced with a new ‘localised’ scheme while ‘under-occupancy rules’ will be introduced for those on housing benefit. A ‘benefits cap’ is to be introduced and from October next year Universal Credit will replace Jobseekers’ Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and housing benefit.