of state for work and pensions, Andrew Smith with a best value report
on the administration of housing benefit and Council Tax benefit by
Stockton-on-Tees BC. An inspection was carried out earlier this year
councils to deliver the most economic, efficient and effective
services possible. Using a three star rating system, the report finds
that the benefit service provided by Stockton-on-Tees BC is a fair,
one star service. The report also finds that the council had
promising prospects for improvement as it had a service improvement
plan, and elected members, managers and staff were committed to
The BFI inspection followed a best value review undertaken by the
council in 2000/01. During the review the council was awarded a
Charter Mark for excellence in public service.
The BFI report identifies a number of strengths and good practices
including a strong commitment to staff training, high staff morale,
good working relations with landlords, and improvements in customer
The council had introduced several major changes in the 18 months
before the inspection, which involved considerable investment.
Additional staff had been recruited and the core IT system was in the
process of being replaced. The report concludes that these changes
provide a sound foundation for the council to improve the quality of
its benefit service.
The report also identifies areas in need of improvement including
reducing the processing times for claims to benefit, reducing the
backlog of work, increasing the publicity and take up of benefits,
and giving customers more telephone access to the benefit service.
To help Stockton-on-Tees BC improve its services, BFI has made a
number of recommendations, including identifying the reasons for
'bottlenecks' in the benefit system, to eradicate unnecessary delays
and formulate an effective backlog reduction plan to clear
In 2001/02, Stockton-on-Tees BC paid out approximately£43m in
housing benefits. This represents around 23% of its gross expenditure.
BFI 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
1. The Local Government Act 1999 placed a duty of best value on local
authorities to deliver services to clear standards of cost and
quality by the most economic, efficient and effective means
2. Best value is a challenging performance framework that was
introduced in April 2000. It requires authorities to publish annual
best value performance plans and review all their services. Once the
council has conducted a review of its service an inspection is
3. A three star rating system is used:
- excellent - 3 stars
- good - 2 stars
- fair - 1 star
- poor - nostars.
4. BFI has the responsibility of inspecting all best value reviews of
benefit services to determine whether authorities have complied with
the requirements of the best value legislation and associated
5. The process for inspection at Stockton-on-Tees BC included an
initial fact-finding stage, an on-site visit and report generation
and clearance. The on-site visit took place during April 2002.
6. A copy of the report can be found on the internet at: