process new benefit claims, according to a report published this week.
Since its inspection in August by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate,
claims for housing benefit and council tax benefit from 86 days to 41.
This level of performance has taken the council out of the bottom
quartile of reported performance nationally.
Allan Higgs, executive member for corporate affairs, said: 'We welcome
the BFI's report on the benefits service and take our duty to administer
housing benefit and council tax benefit very seriously. We are always
open to appropriate suggestions for improvements.
'The benefits service has undertaken a significant improvement
programme over the past two years and aims to be one of the best
benefits services in the country.'
South Gloucestershire Council was selected for a focused inspection on
processing claims because its performance level was outside the standard
36 days. Weaknesses were identified in the benefits administration
processes, which had contributed to its performance.
The benefits service responded positively to recommendations by the BFI
and an Internal Audit and improvements have been made. An action plan
has also been developed to address the recommendations in the report.
Mr Higgs continued: 'The BFI report identifies that there have been
improvements in performance and I'm please to say that these
improvements are continuing.
'Backlogs of work within the service have been eliminated and 85% of
claims are now paid within 14 days if the authority receiving all the
DEPARTMENT FOR WORK AND PENSIONS
BENEFIT FRAUD INSPECTORATE (BFI) FOCUSED INSPECTION REPORT: SOUTH GLOUCESTERSHIRE COUNCIL
Work and pensions secretary Alan Johnson has today
published a focused inspection report by the Benefit Fraud
Inspectorate on the administration of processing of claims by
South Gloucestershire Council.
South Gloucestershire Council was selected for a focused inspection
on processing of claims of HB and CTB because it had reported that it
was taking 86 days on average to process new claims for HB and CTB in
2003/04. This level of performance was in the bottom quartile of all
reported performance and 50 days outside the Standard of 36 days.
In 2003/04, South Gloucestershire Council administered some£33.7m in housing benefits, about 10 per cent of its gross revenue expenditure.
BFI identified weaknesses in the council's benefits administration
processes, which had contributed to its performance. These included:
user errors, inaccurate management information, delays in
transferring claims and further information from one-stop shops and
housing offices to the main benefits processing office, delays in
setting up council tax accounts and management checking processes
that were not fully effective.
The report notes that there were problems with the interfaces between
the benefits service and Jobcentre Plus and The Pension Service.
Benefits service staff told inspectors that delays in sharing
information and issues around the consistency and accuracy of that
information had led to delays in the processing of benefit claims.
BFI made recommendations to ensure that problems in the exchange of
information were quickly addressed and a national initiative by
Jobcentre Plus to improve joint working will also help resolve this.
The benefits service had responded positively to recommendations made
by internal audit. However, it had set very challenging targets for
dealing with internal audit recommendations, resulting in some
failures to meet completion dates.
Since the inspection the council has made improvements in the average
time taken to process new claims for HB and CTB. In October 2004 it
reported that the average time has reduced to 46 days. The council
has also developed an action plan to address the recommendations in