Steven Rybaruk 22 February 2022

Getting to grips with HBAAI

Getting to grips with HBAAI image
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Now into its tenth year under the umbrella of the Universal Credit system, housing benefit continues to shift in accordance with government policy decisions, stretching local authority budgets and resources that are already overspent.

The recent introduction of the housing benefit award accuracy initiative (HBAAI) marks the latest drive to ensure housing benefit claims remain valid and up to date. As participation in the scheme becomes mandatory from April 2022, the pressure is now on councils to prioritise the seamless processing and management of housing benefit case reviews. With a new monthly Caseload Risk Data model and higher stakes involved in failure, no local authority can afford to play catch-up: a robust year-round strategy for successful implementation is critical to fulfil these growing responsibilities and safeguard the public purse.

But given the current strains on bandwidth and overstretched departments, taking such a systematic approach may be easier said than done. Fortunately, the optimum solution is ready and waiting for councils. Outsourcing to a trusted provider of benefit solutions can ensure that all bases are covered, empowering local authorities to deliver on all set requirements with agility and accuracy.

A new initiative

Under the HBAAI, councils receive an allocated amount of funding from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to undertake specific activities to identify unreported changes and to ensure the accuracy of housing benefit awards. Such activities include HB Full Case Reviews (FCRs) and HB Matching Service (HMBS) referrals – including Self-employed Earnings Reviews (SERs).

While the Government does not prescribe exactly how local authorities undertake these reviews, there is a clear expectation for councils to use data available to them digitally to review and validate all current information associated with claims, identify any changes of circumstances, and recalculate customer entitlement accordingly.

The initial launch of HBAAI was thrown off-course by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, out of 362 local authorities, around two-thirds (240) confirmed their commitment to the initiative in 2020/21. The clock is now ticking for the remaining 122 local authorities to ensure they have the right processes and strategy in place before April.

Challenges faced by councils

While specific barriers to participation in HBAAI may vary between councils, the shared challenges faced by the public sector are apparent.

Firstly, many local authorities are experiencing less scope for resilience due to increased workload pressures and overstretched resources. More people are receiving benefits now due to the pandemic, while the circumstances of the self-employed are particularly likely to have changed. Moreover, a historic lack of longevity within the benefits world means that some departments face obstacles when it comes to implementing new initiatives.

The need to undertake targeted FCRs is a further challenge. From last year, participating councils have been required to complete full case reviews on their share of the top 400,000 housing benefit cases identified nationally by the HBAA risk score, which predicts the probability of a HB case having a change of circumstance.

To review the most high-risk cases, local authorities receive a risk score for each case. These scores tend to contain minimal data and usually lack a clear claim characteristic. This presents a significant challenge for councils that are already overburdened with benefit processing workloads, as they must now filter their case selection based on new criteria.

HBAAI requires councils to keep up with the necessary numbers and to identify the most efficient methods of delivering this information back to the DWP. They must additionally flag up potential cases of fraud and identify all undeclared changes in circumstances. Should they fail to have the right processes in place, local authorities stand to lose more than the funding. Unresolved discrepancies can cause considerable reputational damage and will negatively affect councils, housing providers, and customers alike.

Intelligent case selection

In light of these challenges, growing numbers of local authorities are placing their trust in outsourcing providers. By passing the burden to the right strategic partner, councils can benefit from reliable case selection and the consistent and intelligent delivery of end-to-end solutions.

Top providers of revenues and benefit solutions will have the tools to target and categorise high-risk case groups. They can take a council’s risk score in its most basic form and provide a script for them to run against their system, effectively pulling the two pieces of information together into a Service Cloud platform. This intelligent tool can filter cases based on demographics, changing circumstance, or date of last review, allowing case selection based on set criteria.

Intelligent case selection can take the sting out of meeting this key HBAAI requirement, guaranteeing significant savings to time, effort, and resources. A full end-to-end process will also take care of important administrative tasks, such as letter generation to customers.

As participation in the housing benefit award accuracy initiative becomes mandatory, councils should utilise the end-to-end services of experts in benefits solutions. Whether they require a provider to take care of their whole HBAAI requirements, or just a basic review, the right partnership will allow local authorities the breathing space to focus on their own specific projects and needs.

Steven Rybaruk is solutions and innovation leader of process services at Liberata

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