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MID SUSSEX DC REVENUES, BENEFITS AND INVESTIGATIONS SERVICE RATED 'GOOD'

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The revenues, benefits and investigations service provided by Mid Sussex DC is good but has uncertain prospects for...
The revenues, benefits and investigations service provided by Mid Sussex DC is good but has uncertain prospects for improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

An inspection team gave the service two stars* because the council tax collection rate is among the top 25% of similar councils, claims for housing and council tax benefit are being dealt with quickly, and help points at Burgess Hill and East Grinstead provide contact points for customers living outside Haywards Heath. However, service standards have not been published and there are no council policies on anti poverty and social inclusion.

Steven Shuttleworth, managing inspector, southern region, said: 'Many people in Mid Sussex are served well by the council's revenues and benefits service. However, there are some weaknesses in terms of user focus and helping people who are most in need. To ensure that the service improves the council needs to revise its improvement plan to focus on the main weaknesses, and identify actions which will enable it be in the top 25%of councils. The plan will also need to be supported by a clear financial plan and be achievable.'

The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:

The service has developed clear aims that link to wider council objectives.

There are good collection rates of council tax and business rates and the speed of processing benefit work is improving.

The review made good use of consultation and challenge.

However, inspectors also found weaknesses:

There are delays in sending appeals.

Although targets are set to help drive improvement, some need to be more challenging and customer focused.

The links to wider council objectives to help disadvantaged people are hampered by the lack of corporate policies in this area.

The best value review did not fully explore whether there were better ways to provide the service.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:

Improving access to the service for the disadvantaged by using feedback from users.

Enhancing customer service by reviewing customer service points for wait times and implementing queuing systems.

Ensuring customers understand the level of service that they can expect by publishing meaningful performance standards.

The service is estimated to cost £1.7m for 2002/03 and is provided directly by the council. There are 53 staff employed to carry out these functions at Haywards Heath and two part-time help points at East Grinstead and Burgess Hill.

Copies of the report are available from Mid Sussex District Council or on the Audit Commission website here.

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