Inspectors found weaknesses in the council's administration of benefits and noted in their report a commitment from the council to improve their efficiency, security and the integrity of the benefits system.
Improvements are also recommended for the processes for handling renewal claims and reported changes in circumstances to ensure that claims are free from fraud and error.
The council was found to have effective systems for investigating fraud and recovering benefit. Internal and External Audit's provision of a robust and effective audit system gives some assurance for the security of the benefits system. Inspectors were also satisfied with the level of checks undertaken by the council to monitor the performance of the external contractor that provides the council's revenues and benefits service. However, the level of resources allocated to auditing benefits work each year was small in comparison to the amount of benefits expenditure.
In 2000/2001 the council paid out£17.75m in benefits which is 48% of its gross revenue expenditure.
A statement from the local authority follows:
The council welcomes the report by the BFI and notes the comments made. The inspection was carried out in July/August 2001 and related to a period earlier in the year when the council and its contractor were actively working together to improve the service. The BFI accepts that significant progress has been achieved and the council is preparing an action plan to address other outstanding issues.