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'FAIR' BEST VALUE REPORT FOR STOCKTON-ON-TEES BC

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The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) has today provided the secretary...
The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) has today provided the secretary

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

under the government's best value scheme that places a duty upon all

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

service improvements.

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

service.

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

outstanding claims.

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

fraud activity.

Notes

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

available.

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

arranged.

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

guidance.

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:

www.bfi.gov.uk

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