Inspectors found that the council's staff had a strong commitment to ensuring that claims are processed quickly, benefit payments are paid promptly and that overpayments are recovered wherever possible.
The report notes a reasonable standard of claims verification and inspectors anticipated further improvement once the impact is felt of the council's implementation of the verification framework.
The BFI had a number of concerns including a lack of management information that is necessary to support the council's benefit operations. This, combined with inadequate targets, measurements and procedural guidance meant that management were taking organisational decisions based on insufficient information.
The report notes that the council was failing to use its prosecution policy. Additionally, there was no clear policy to define which sanctions were considered appropriate and there had been no fraud prosecutions or administrative penalties during the three years prior to the inspection.
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 benefits. The BFI are encouraged by the council's response to its findings and the steps that it has started to take to carry out its recommendations.
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 Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth).
1. The BFI is an independent unit within the Department of Social Security set up to inspect social security benefits administration and counter fraud activity within DSS agencies and local authorities, to report to the secretary of state for social security, and to promote good practice.
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.
A copy of the report can be found on the internet at: http://www.dss.gov.uk/hq/bfi.