Inspectors found the benefits section in the council placed a strong emphasis on achieving high levels of speed and efficiency. This performance had placed the council in the top quartile in comparison to other councils in the country over the last few years.
However, inspectors noted concern that the high priority given to processing claims speedily had been at the expense of ensuring that all payments were secure and valid.
The BFI considered that the security of the benefits system needed to be strengthened in three areas: full compliance with the verification framework; fraud investigation and overpayment recovery and classification.
The VF was found to be uncovering claims with undeclared income and capital that contributed to a reduction in housing benefit and council tax benefit expenditure. The council had adopted a number of new security initiatives including the Do not Redirect mail scheme and was using a remote access terminal to access information from the Department of Social Security and the Benefits Agency.
The BFI makes a number of recommendations to help the council to improve its administration and counter fraud activity for housing benefit and council tax benefit.
Inspections are carried out with agencies and local authorities and the BFI is working to raise standards and spread good practice. Through its recommendations, improvements can be identified to safeguard current systems and inform design for the future.
Social security minister Jeff Rooker announced the publication of the report in response to a parliamentary question from Mr Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston).
A copy of the report can be found on the internet at: http://www.dss.gov.uk/hq/bfi.