(BFI) into the administration of housing benefit and council tax
benefit and counter fraud activity by Southwark LBC has been published.
positive turnaround in performance since it was first inspected in
September 1999. Many of the BFI recommendations have been implemented
in full and the majority of previous weaknesses in benefit
administration had been addressed. The report commends the work done
to collect the information required to verify a customer's claim to
benefit, to improve the process of making payments on account and to
introduce new guidance for fraud and overpayment staff.
Inspectors found that there were still weaknesses in customer
service. The council introduced a new telephone system to improve the
long delays for telephone callers and the number of abandoned calls
which, inspectors consider will significantly improve customer
The report notes an improvement in the clearance time for claims. In
1999 only 20% of claims were cleared within the 14 day target. At the
second inspection this was found to have improved to 52%. But the
council could do more by ensuring that all information is available
when claims are first received.
At the time of the inspection the council was using more than one
claim form for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit although it
was planning to introduce a new single claim form taking account of
the standards of the BFI model form.
The council had reduced the large backlog of work, which in 1999
stood at 19,000 claims, and at the time of the second inspection the
council estimated around 5,000 claims were outstanding. However, the
report notes that the council had no formal plan to clear the
Significant improvement was noted in the quality of Southwark's fraud
investigations. Preparation, record keeping and general file
maintenance was found to be good and this was supported by a high
standard of staff training. In line with BFI's recommendations, the
council's review of its anti-fraud strategy had been successfully
Inspectors remained concerned over weaknesses existing in the
council's approach to overpayment of benefit and, in this, the
council acknowledged that progress against BFI recommendations had
been slow. Several new recommendations relating to overpayments have
been made to improve the overall effectiveness in this area.
The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate is an independent unit within the
department for work and pensions that reports directly to the
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the standard of benefit
administration and counter fraud activity. It works to help councils
improve efficiency and deter, prevent, detect and investigate fraud
by strengthening the security of the delivery of benefits. This
report includes recommendations of good practice which Southwark
LBC will be able to make use of these to further improve.
Malcolm Wicks, work and pensions minister, announced the publication
of the report in response to a Parliamentary Question from Vernon
1. The process for inspection at Southwark LBC included an initial
fact finding stage, an on site visit and report generation and
clearance. The onsite visit part of the inspection took place during
2. Each BFI inspection report is considered by the secretary of state
who decides whether any further action is appropriate. The secretary
of state has powers to issue directions to a local authority to
secure acceptable/minimum standards in performance.