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
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
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
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.