The Audit Commission in Wales Inspection Team gave the service two stars (out of a possible three) because staff are clearly committed to providing effective services. But the independent report also says that there's some room for improvement in encouraging benefit take up and in adopting a corporate approach to debt counselling.
'Housing benefit provides much needed financial support to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. As such, local people would expect councils to make sure that those who are entitled to benefit take up what's available to them.
'Although there is room for improvement in this area in Pembrokeshire, on the whole, however, our inspection report paints a very positive picture of the Council's Revenues Service. Staff generally provide a service that is customer focussed and that compares favourably with that of other councils.'
The inspection report highlights a number of positive features of the service:
- People who use the service are generally satisfied
- Staff are customer focussed and committed to providing effective services
- There are extensive facilities available for disabled and elderly customers
- The service performs well in terms of collection rates and cost effectiveness compared with other councils
However, inspectors also found areas that the council still needs to address, including:
- Geographical access to the service is currently a problem for some customers
- Encouraging welfare benefit take up is not sufficiently co-ordinated
- Performance on processing benefits is below average compared with other councils. It is however recognised that the Service implemented the Verification Framework (VF) for the prevention of benefit fraud on the 1st of October 2001. Nationally, the implementation of VF has been shown to have an adverse effect on processing times for benefit departments;
- There is currently no corporate approach to debt counselling
Inspectors believe that the service has promising prospects for improvement because:
- Staff show commitment and energy to improving the service
- The service has performance management measures in place
- The service has a track record in making improvements and a capacity for change
- Agreed future measures like off site processing and pre assessment teams have could secure future improvements
Recommendations to help improve the service include:
- Implementing a range of measures to improve customer focus and access;
- Implementing a range of measures to encourage take up of welfare benefits.
Pembrokeshire's revenue services covers the two corefunctions of local taxation and housing and council tax benefit. Local taxation incorporates the administration, billing and collection of council tax and business rates (NNDR). Housing and council tax benefit incorporates the administration and of means tested benefits, designed to support people on low income, to help them pay rent and council tax. The service has a budget of£2.150m in 2001/02 and employs the equivalent of around 60 full time members of staff.