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BFI REPORT: EAST LOTHIAN COUNCIL

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The secretary of state for work and pensions, Alistair Darling has ...
The secretary of state for work and pensions, Alistair Darling has

today published a report by the benefit fraud inspectorate (BFI) into

the administration of housing benefit and council tax benefit and

counter fraud activity by East Lothian Council. This is the second

report on East Lothian Council by BFI.

The council paid out almost£18m in benefits in 1999/2000.

The report recognises that some definite improvements in areas such

as day-to-day claims processing and fraud investigation have been

made since the council was inspected in 1998, however, it is highly

critical of the lack of demonstrable commitment at senior management

level to address issues highlighted by the first BFI inspection. The

report finds that relatively of the few major recommendations have

been fully implemented and in areas such as the provision of

management information, system security and overpayment recovery

where longstanding weaknesses were identified. The council has made

little or no attempt to tackle serious shortcomings in benefit

administration. Of 82 previous recommendations there was evidence to

show full implementation in only 14 of them.

Additionally, matters which have been reported by the council to the

department for work and pensions (DWP - formerly DSS) as having been

remedied were still problematical at the time inspectors visited in

November.

Inspectors found that it was extremely difficult to assess

performance in benefit administration and overpayment management when

the council was unable to provide any reliable data for the previous

two financial years.

In 1998 key aspects of the council's strategic and operational

management were examined and it was reported:

There is little evidence that East Lothian Council's stated purpose

and objectives are supported by policy, performance standards and

procedures. There is little structured management information and no

reporting of performance against target.

This latest report finds little evidence of sustained improvement in

this important area.

The report praises the commitment of front-line staff. The benefit

fraud inspectorate is an independent unit within the department for

work and pensions that reports directly to the secretary of state for

work and pensions on the standard of benefit administration and

counter fraud activity. It works to help councils improve efficiency

and deter, prevent, detect and investigate fraud by strengthening the

security of the delivery of benefits. Its report includes

recommendations of good practice and East Lothian Council

will be able to make use of these to address the weaknesses

identified.

Notes

1. The process for inspection at East Lothian Council included an

initial fact finding stage, an on site visit and report generation

and clearance. The onsite visit part of the inspection took place

during November 2000.

2. Each inspection report is considered by the secretary of state who

decides whether any further action is appropriate. The secretary of

state has powers to issue directions to a local authority to secure

acceptable/minimum standards in performance.

3. A copy of the report can be found on the BFI website.

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