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Underfunding, excessive paperwork and a lack of piloting led to backlogs of ...
Underfunding, excessive paperwork and a lack of piloting led to backlogs of
housing benefit claims during the introduction of the verification framework, a Department of Social Security report has found.
The report says councils felt the DSS did not provide enough guidance or finance, which led to many 'teething problems'. Despite this, most councils remain committed to the framework.
Some 250 councils have now received funding for the framework.
The report, which covers the initial implementation between November 1999 and August 2000, says two major decisions by councils hampered its introduction.
They underestimated the costs and the staffing levels needed, leading to massive staff overtime, stress, sickness and resignations. The framework was often brought in at the same time as document processing systems and new benefits software that often failed to work.
Claimants misunderstood the DSS's advance publicity and were often angered and confused when they first came into contact with it, the report says.
Generally councils felt the framework raised the profile of anti-fraud activities and has started to reduce new claims for housing benefit, though hardened fraudsters are unlikely to be deterred. The DSS should have accompanied it with a publicity campaign and helplines, they said.
Local Government Association housing officer Gwyneth Taylor said: 'In principle there is no disagreement about improving benefit verification, but the DSS tried to do this on the cheap. Their own team was under-resourced and the funding for councils is a real threat to the continuation of the framework.
'The biggest problem is that the DSS failed to carry out proper pilots, which led to software problems and underestimating staff processing time. The vast majority of housing benefit claimants are elderly and they find it very difficult to fill in the forms. Many can't get to the benefits office and don't want to send personal documents through the post.
'My advice is that no local authority should go into the framework unless it already has cleared any backlogs.'
-The verification framework. Early experiences of implementation is published by the Department of Social Security. A free summary is available from the Social Research Branch, tel: 020 7962 8981.
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