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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 11/07/2006
INSPECTION OF SECURITY OF THE BENEFITS SERVICE BY THE BENEFIT FRAUD INSPECTORATE



Summary & Purpose
The purpose of this report is

a. to inform members of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) Report presented to the Secretary of State following the inspection of the Security Function;

b. to inform members of the Improvement Plan to deliver the recommendations made in the report; and

c. to inform members of the improvements in performance in the Security function since December 2004 and the current position.

APPENDIX K
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE – 11TH JULY 2006
CORPORATE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – 3RD JULY 2006
_________________________________________________________________________
Title:

INSPECTION OF SECURITY OF THE BENEFITS SERVICE BY THE BENEFIT FRAUD INSPECTORATE
[Wards Affected: All]
_________________________________________________________________________
Summary and purpose:

The purpose of this report is

a. to inform members of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) Report presented to the Secretary of State following the inspection of the Security Function;

b. to inform members of the Improvement Plan to deliver the recommendations made in the report; and

c. to inform members of the improvements in performance in the Security function since December 2004 and the current position.

_________________________________________________________________________
Environmental implications:

There are no direct environmental implications arising from this report.

Social / community implications:

There are no direct social/community implications arising from this report.

E-Government implications:

The use of information technology is a key part of the benefits service. Some of the actions in this report require the development of the ICT systems.

Resource and legal implications:

The Action Plan will be carried out within approved budget resources and with the help of free support from the BFI Performance Development Team.

New claims for Housing and / or Council Tax Benefit determined 2005/2006 3019
Changes in circumstances actioned for existing claims 2005/2006 9097

The direct focus of the BFI inspection covered the work on Housing Benefit security. The Council has 2 investigation officers and currently a vacant investigation manager post. However, the security aspects around Housing Benefit rely on the proper administration of the Housing Benefit function which is performed by 13.6 other direct Housing Benefit staff. Other staff across the Council also contribute to the security arrangements for housing benefit.

No further inspections are planned by the BFI in respect of Waverley’s Benefit Service in their current published work programme (Phase 16). Phase 17 to be published prior to Parliament’s summer recess.


Background

1. The Benefits Section deals with the administration of the Housing and Council Tax Benefit scheme on behalf of Waverley Borough Council. This administration involves both the payment of benefit to those properly entitled and the prevention and detection of fraud and error. The Housing and Council Tax Benefit scheme is a national scheme with rules set by Parliament but administrated by Local Authorities.

2. The Inspection of the Security Function was at the bequest of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions due to the limited number of sanctions taken against fraudsters during the period April and December 2004. During this period 2 cautions and 1 administrative penalty were applied.

3. The inspection was carried out by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI). The BFI began operating in November 1997 as part of the Government's initiatives to reduce the high levels of fraud in the social security system. They are part of the Department for Work and Pensions, but operate independently of those responsible for administrating benefits, reporting directly to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

4. The scope of the inspection was the Security Function. The areas covered by this are detailed in the Department for Work and Pensions Performance Standards. The Performance Standards are a set of standards set by Central Government, based on BFI findings of what makes up effective and secure Housing Benefit delivery. There are 4 themes of which Security is one.

5. The Security theme covers 7 Performance measures and 21 Enablers. The inspection also included enablers from other themes of the Performance Standards as these directly affect security. The definition and performance against these measures and enablers is attached at Annexe 1.

Report Findings and Recommendations

6. The report's findings on overall performance stated that there was a great deal of commitment and professionalism in the administration of Housing and Council Tax Benefit by Waverley Borough Council and that there was a determination to improve of the Fair performance achieved by the Benefits service during the Comprehensive Performance Assessment completed in November 2003. Our last self-assessment against the Performance Standards, completed in October 2005 gives a rating of 3, which is good. The inspection verified this self-assessment for the enablers covered in the Security theme.

7. The report makes recommendations to help the Council further improve performance and achieve excellence for its Benefits Service. The recommendations are split into 3 categories, high, medium and low. Overall, there are 10 recommendations across the 3 priority groups.


8. In response to these recommendations, an Improvement Plan has been devised and agreed in partnership with the BFI. This Improvement Plan addresses all the recommendations and sets out a realistic timetable and details the resources needed to ensure that the necessary actions are achieved. This plan is attached as Annexe 2.

9. In addition to agreeing the Improvement Plan, officers are working in partnership with the BFI’s Performance Development Team (PDT) to ensure that the improvement work done meets the required standard and utilises current best practice.

10. The PDT will be visiting Waverley over the Summer of 2006.

Security Performance Update

11. The targeted security inspection was made due to the limited number of sanctions made during the period April to December 2004.

12. The Investigation Manager left in October 2004, and since this date the Benefit Manager has directly managed the Section. Once we were informed of the Inspection, a decision was taken to leave the post vacant until the findings of the inspection were known. Following the inspection, the vacancy has been advertised. The closing date for applications was 15th June 2006.

13. From October 2004 the focus for the Investigation Section was to improve the outcomes from the investigation work undertaken. This involved a change to the way in which the reasons for applying a sanction were considered. The strict financial limit test was no longer treated as a primary reason in considering if formal action should be taken.

14. For each case that had been carefully investigated, a summary report with recommendations was prepared and considered by the Benefits Manager in consultation with the Investigating Officer. The decision to recommend formal action was taken after considering all the circumstances that led to the offence, duration of the offence and the information obtained at the interview under caution.

15. This revised approach resulted in an increased number of the claims investigated and recommended a Sanction being approved for such action. Details of performance for 2004/2005 and 2005/2006 are set out at Annexe 3.

16. Between January and March 2005 1 caution was administrated and 1 Administrative Penalty offered and accepted by fraudsters. The work continued in 2005/2006 and during this period officers applied 23 cautions and offered 5 administrative penalties to fraudsters. In addition, 2 prosecutions were undertaken which both resulted in a “guilty” verdict.

17. Prior to 2006 no score was applied in assessing the overall rating for the Performance Standards in respect of Performance Measure 16, the number of successful sanctions per 1000 caseload. From April 2006 this Performance Measure can contribute up to 8% of the overall rating, from the overall Security weighting of 35%. To achieve the full 8% performance must be greater than 4.2 sanctions per 1000 caseload. The performance for 2005/2006 equates to 4.78 per 1000 caseload scoring the maximum rating of 4 and 8%.


18. The Investigation Section continues to work both pro-actively to detect fraud and reactively to investigate the referrals that are received. Collaborative pro-active work continues with the recent successful vehicle stop exercise having been completed. This operation involved officers from Surrey Police, Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency, Surrey County Council Trading Standards Waverley Benefit Investigation Section.

19. Early signs are encouraging for the performance for 2006/2007. Officers have already applied one caution and have two cases recommended for prosecution and one further case subject to joint prosecution in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions. Details of levels of outstanding work in respect of Housing and Council Tax Benefit claims are set out as Annexe 4.

Improvement Plan and joint work with BFI’s Performance Development Team

20. The BFI report makes 10 recommendations for improvements to the Security function, which are grouped by priority as high, medium or low.

21. These recommendations are intended to help Waverley further improve its performance and achieve excellence for its Benefits service.

22. Officers were aware prior to the inspection that, as a result of the focus to improve the outcomes of the investigation work and the absence of an Investigation Manager, based on the hours available to the Benefits Manager, there would be areas of work not undertaken.

23. Officers broadly agreed with the report findings. Now the procedures and practices regarding investigation outcomes are resolved, the quality and assurance areas will be addressed. The first stage to achieving this is to appoint a new Investigation Manager to provide the resource needed.

24. The Improvement Plan details how Waverley will achieve the work needed to meet the recommendations. Work is already underway on all the high priority recommendations. The work needed to monitor work daily has been in place since February 2006 and has enabled work to be effectively targeted and SMART objectives set. This work has successfully reduced the volume of work outstanding by 700 items of post, which on average represents 10 day's receipts.

25. A part of the follow up to the inspection, the BFI offer free support to help the organisation that has been inspected meet the recommendations made.

26. Waverley Officers will be working in partnership with the PDT to ensure that the current findings of best practice of all recent BFI reports, not just Waverley’s are utilised in meeting all the reports recommendations.

27. Much of the work with the PDT will focus around, policy documents, best use of current IT systems and use of the BFI’s toolkit to analyse current working practices to ensure that current best practice is being used to best effect.

Conclusion

28. The Benefits Service as a whole is aiming to maintain and improve upon the current performance ensuring upper quartile performance in all areas. The successful implementation of the improvement plan within the Security function will ensure that Waverley Benefits will achieve best practice.

Recommendation

It is recommended that members note the improvements in the Security function performance achieved thus far and note the plans for further service improvements.


Background Papers (DoF)

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Report presented to the Secretary of State regarding Waverley Borough Council - January 2006


CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Robert Fox Telephone: 01483 523021

E-mail: rfox@waverley.gov.uk

Comms/exec/2006-07/085