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The revenues and benefits service provided by North Warwickshire BC is good but has uncertain prospects of achievei...
The revenues and benefits service provided by North Warwickshire BC is good but has uncertain prospects of achieveing further significant improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service two stars out of a possible three because elements of the revenues section consistently perform amongst the best 25 per cent of councils in the country however the benefits section performs less consistently well.

Sandy McMillan, Audit Commission spokesperson, said:

'North Warwickshire's revenues and benefits team provides a good service to local people. It achieves high levels of satisfaction from the public, landlords, and other organisations and is consistently amongst the best in the country at collecting rates on businesses. The council is piloting a number of alternative ways of processing benefit claims but has yet to demonstrate these will lead to further improvements that the public will notice.'

The inspectors' found:

-The council achieves high public satisfaction with all aspects of the benefits service. Stakeholders have very positive views of benefits and revenues, ranking them as one of the better services in the area and the service undertakes a number of initiatives to encourage benefit take-up.

-The performance of North Warwickshire's benefit team is above average and the revenues team is consistently amongst the best councils for collecting Non-domestic rates and above average for collecting council tax.

-The benefits service complies with the government's verification framework and the fraud section consistently protects the public purse by identifying and stopping a significant number of benefit fraud cases, regularly exceeding government targets.

-Staff are well trained, motivated, and keen to provide a good service. However regular high rates of sickness reduce the council's capacity to deliver the service and increases costs.

-The council is making some c hanges to the way the service is being delivered, through the use of external processing of benefits claims, home-working and handheld technology. However the benefits of these changes to local people are as yet unclear.

-The service has not demonstrated consistent year on year improvement to key benefit indicators.

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

-Rigorously enforce the procedures that it has introduced to reduce the high levels of sickness absence which reduce its capacity to deliver services and increase costs to local people.

-Evaluate the costs of the service and demonstrate that all aspects of it deliver best value to the people of North Warwickshire.

-Clearly determine what outcomes a project is expected to deliver for local people before commencement so that the level of success achieved can be measured.

North Warwickshire BC's revenues and benefits service is provided by an in-house team. It serves local people by:

-Administering housing benefit and council tax benefit claims

-Providing benefit advice

-Billing and collecting council tax and non domestic rates

-Deterring, preventing and investigating HB and CTB fraud

-Recovering debts due to the council.

Overall, the service currently employs 37 people and has a net revenue budget for 2003/04 of£1.051m.

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