Rate Rebate Replacement Programme Lessons Learned

As part of the ongoing efforts to update Lessons Learned from all areas of the public and NICS departments, we are sharing details of the Rate Rebate Replacement Programme. 

The Rate Rebate Replacement Programme (R3P) was established in summer 2012 by the Department of Finance and Personnel (now Department of Finance (DoF)) to design and implement legislative and administrative changes in rates support by creating a new Rate Rebate Scheme.

The new scheme is expected to be designed to operate within a reduced budget as a result of a 10% cut (applied by the UK Government from April 2013). The Northern Ireland Executive has funded this 10% shortfall to date.

Rates support is an element of Housing Benefit, currently legislated for under social security legislation, which helps around 220,000 households in Northern Ireland by paying all or some of the rates that are due.

Changes to the benefit system are being brought forward as a direct result of Welfare Reform, a programme initiated throughout the UK by the Government at Westminster. One such change is the introduction of Universal Credit which will subsume the rent element of Housing Benefit, leaving rates support as a benefit to be legislated for and administered separately. Rates support will therefore transfer from social security legislation to DoF and will be governed by the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 and the Rate Relief Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017. In addition, given the ongoing Social Housing Reform Programme within the Department for Communities (DfC), which is defining the future role of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) with a new organisation and new functions, it was agreed in September 2013 at Ministerial level that Land & Property Services (LPS) would become the sole organisation to administer rates support for both owner occupiers and tenants.Key Lessons from Stakeholder Engagement

From the findings gathered at consultation stage with stakeholders, including current and former R3P Board members R3P Workstream Managers and other key stakeholders, there are a number of lessons learned, which may benefit future programmes or projects and this section sets out a summary of these.  

A more joined up government approach at the outset may have provided better value for money.

 

The Programme was established in 2012 to design and implement a new Interim Rate Rebate Replacement scheme by April 2014 to co-incide with the Welfare Reform agenda, with a final scheme to follow. In 2014 Ministers agreed to realign the introduction of the new scheme with the implementation of Universal Credit. 

 

A significant number of consultees commented that it would have been more efficient and provided better value for money if the scheme was run as integral part of UC within DfC. Their view was that NICS Board or the Executive should have provided direction at the outset, on the basis of value for money (vfm) in financial and non-financial terms. i.e. the best solution for NI PLC.

More collaborative relationships should have been developed between the Programme and the business from the outset to ensure ownership and understanding of R3P.

 

This was key. Stakeholders felt that more structured and meaningful engagement with the business from inception, would have assisted their understanding of the proposed scheme and helped gain trust and get buy-in, as issues could have been addressed as they arose. This in turn could have influenced policy direction, so would have provided better vfm.

 

It is important to provide positive leadership. Agreeing joint aims and outcomes at the outset of the Programme may have ensured better relationships. 

Relationships with DfC have been difficult and this is the biggest risk, there needed to be joint ownership of R3P. Although DfC is a major stakeholder, relationships have been at arms length and there has been a lack of trust and little buy-in.

 

Specialist skills (e.g. negotiating, contractual) and sufficient programme /project experience should be requirements for Programme Management.  

Change controls were required for the ICT system. There was friction and protracted discussion with BT (the provider) regarding one of the change controls. The issue was complex and the result is that it has damaged relationships with the supplier. Specialist negotiating skills would have aided the process.

 

Value for Money   

The interim solution, which was proposed due to the (initial) lack of time to move to the full solution, would not have allowed the Programme to progress to full implementation, i.e. politicians would not have wanted to move to the full solution. It was important to see the big picture and the ultimate goal, which was to streamline policy. Also, the interim solution would have been a huge demand in terms of staffing numbers. Eliminating the need for an interim solution will result in a better vfm solution.   

 

In summary, stakeholder views highlight that the Rate Rebate Replacement Programme has been a challenging Programme to deliver over a prolonged period, particularly in the political and economic cl0.

imate which exists. Despite this, the Programme has made sound progress and, although there are a number of outstanding risks and issues to be managed, prior to implementation, the Programme is now fully aligned to the UC schedule and is on track to deliver. Stakeholders noted that the R3P team had maintained focus throughout this 5-year period, despite setbacks, and should be commended on their efforts.

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