Council critcised over benefits

A GOVERNMENT report has slammed a north Suffolk local authority over the way it deals with housing benefit and council tax benefit.Waveney District Council has also been criticised over the way its tackles benefit fraud in the report from the Department for Works and pensions.

A GOVERNMENT report has slammed a north Suffolk local authority over the way it deals with housing benefit and council tax benefit.

Waveney District Council has also been criticised over the way its tackles benefit fraud in the report from the Department for Works and pensions.

Secretary of State for Works and Pensions, Andrew Smith, published the report by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) yesterday.

The BFI team inspected the council against performance standards for housing benefits.


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Their report found that Waveney had not reached the standard for any of the seven functional areas _ strategic management, customer services, processing of claims, working with landlords, internal security, counter-fraud and overpayments.

The council's overall level of performance for its administration of benefits and counter-fraud activity was said to be "poor" while the report also identified "many significant and serious failings".

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Waveney Chief Executive Mairi McLean has recognised the weaknesses revealed in the report and promised that the council's service to customers will improve.

BFI found that a "lack of strategic vision" and "poor operational planning" had hindered the council's ability to deliver an effective benefit service.

"This was clearly evident during 2001/2002 with long delays in processing new and renewal claims. New claims were taking an average of 86 days to process and only 19 per cent of renewal claims were processed on time.

"The council's processes, procedures and systems were inadequate to secure the benefit system from fraud and error," said the report.

Government inspectors said they had "serious concerns" relating to the council's verification procedures for claim processing.

However, the report found enthusiasm and support for the benefit service from the council's senior officers and staff.

Additional management posts had been created and new members of staff appointed to these key positions.

The inspectors acknowledged that the council recognised that "significant improvements" were needed in the administration of housing benefits.

In 2001/2002 Waveney District Council administered approximately £28 million in housing benefits.

This is approximately 44% of its gross revenue expenditure.

In a statement Waveney District Council said the report identified areas for improvement and many of these have already been or are now being addressed.

"We have already started to implement over one third of the recommendations made in the report," said the statement.

Waveney Chief Executive Mairi McLean said: "By going through this rigorous process of external inspection, we can be certain that our service to customers will improve and that we will now be able to target our resources more effectively in order to achieve this."

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