Benefit delays under microscope
STAFF turnover and the introduction of a new computer system stopped benefit claims being processed quickly, according to a Government report.Suffolk Coastal District Council has lagged behind other local authorities and been told an improvement plan requires further development before it can catch up with other councils.
STAFF turnover and the introduction of a new computer system stopped benefit claims being processed quickly, according to a Government report.
Suffolk Coastal District Council has lagged behind other local authorities and been told an improvement plan requires further development before it can catch up with other councils.
The Government's Audit Commission team of inspectors put the revenues and benefits sections under the microscope as part of the campaign to ensure council departments are operating efficiently and using the Best Value approach.
The revenues section has 20.5 staff dealing with 53,000 council tax payers and 4,600 business rates accounts. In the benefits section there are 24 staff administering 4,700 housing benefit cases and 1,800 council tax benefit claims.
Andy Walford, acting regional director for the Central Region Audit Commission Inspection Service, said: ''Time taken to process claims compares poorly to other local authorities and local people expressed some concerns about access to Felixstowe.
''We are satisfied that this service is delivering the council's core aim, focussing on quality, responsiveness and costs. We found commitment at all levels to achieving further improvement. We were particularly pleased to find a lot of support to ensure that people claim all the benefit they are entitled to.''
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David Smith, cabinet member for finance, said: ''The inspection has highlighted some concerns which we were already addressing.
"Due to staff turnover and the introduction of a new computer system, we were achieving below our own tough targets for dealing with benefit claims at times during the last year, but things have now improved and our aim is to be among the top district councils as we are for collecting council tax and rates.''
The inspection highlighted that Suffolk Coastal is in the top 25 per cent of district councils for collecting council tax and the national non-domestic rates. And that it actively encourages people to claim the benefits they are entitled to, and it supports helpful initiatives in outlying parts of the district.
The Woodbridge-based authority was given a two star rating with uncertain prospects of improvement. The ratings range from 0 (poor) to 3 (excellent).
Copies of the full report are available at: WEBLINK: www.bestvalueinspections.gov.uk.