Council cyber attack has delayed payments to people self-isolating, report reveals
Ed Sheridan, Local Democracy Reporter
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Payments to people self-isolating during the pandemic have been delayed as a result of the serious cyber attack on Hackney Council last October, according to a new report that offers more detail on the extent of the damage.
Documents show a local authority still in the dark across a number of areas and forced to estimate the amount of council tax it has collected, the level of its tenants’ rent arrears, and its performance on housing repairs.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) last month covered the continuing problems with benefits payments.
The new report, to be presented to the Town Hall’s audit committee this week, reads: “The lack of access to key systems has affected the council’s ability to process new benefits applications and changes of circumstances, and has delayed processing of discretionary housing payments that were in process at the time of the attack.
“It has also caused additional manual work for processing Test & Trace self-isolation payments – with some delays where applicants have been asked to provide the council with evidence to support their claims."
The council has worked with the Department for Work and Pensions to restore data sharing to help speed up processes like eligibility checks for self-isolation payments and continues its work to improve data-sharing.
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It said it is prioritising “the most urgent cases”, with both its benefits department and housing strategy services offering reassurance on payments, ahead of rent increases due in the coming months.
The impact of the hack also makes it hard for the council to assess key metrics in other areas such as the number of households living in temporary accommodation.
The report says this data is stored on the unavailable Universal Housing system and since April 2018 on the Jigsaw system, which is available.
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Figures for the percentage of this year’s council tax and total rent arrears collected have had to be given as estimates.
The tracking of completed housing repairs for tenants on first visit is also affected, with the council unable to send out surveys to track satisfaction in the third quarter of 2020/21.
A spokesperson for Hackney Council said: "The government’s Test and Trace Isolation Support Payment scheme is designed to provide some monetary relief to low-income residents who need to stay off work to self-isolate. Claims are assessed against strict eligibility criteria defined by the government.
"The scheme was announced by the prime minister on September 20 2020 and local authorities were expected to have it in place and operational by October 11, backdated to include claims made from 28 September 2020 onwards. We are really pleased that the council was able to meet this deadline and fully comply with the legislation and guidance at such short notice.
"With the government unable to give us a true indicator of the likely demand for this scheme, we have taken proactive steps to manage the unprecedented demand for the payments. This has included moving and training more staff to process claims and manage contact with residents to help process their claims as quickly as possible.
"The cyberattack has not prevented Hackney from implementing the scheme, but it has made the processing of claims more challenging for the council because we were unable to access the Department for Works and Pensions’ software systems to assist with processing claims. We have therefore asked residents to supplement their claims for this payment with the additional evidence needed to ensure that these payments are made lawfully."
The council has adjusted the criteria for the discretionary scheme it manages locally. From April 7 parents and guardians whose children have tested positive for Covid-19 – or have been notified by their nursery, school, or education setting that they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for Covid-19 – and will face financial hardship are able to claim if they have capital and savings of less than £3,000.