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IMPROVEMENTS MADE IN PROCESSING BENEFIT CLAIMS AT S GLOUCESTERSHIRE

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South Gloucestershire Council has halved the number of days it takes to...
South Gloucestershire Council has halved the number of days it takes to

process new benefit claims, according to a report published this week.

Since its inspection in August by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate,

the council has more than halved the average time taken to process new

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

required information.'

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

the report.

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