Ealing Benefits System not up to Standard

Report says more needs to be done to combat fraud despite improvements

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A new report into the benefit system has revealed that the Council has failed to meet any of the seven standards set by the Government.

Ealing Council welcomed the report from the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) which did acknowledge the progress made by Ealing's Benefits Service, as well as pointing out areas for improvement. The Council said that the standards set by the BFI were ambitious and set as an aspirational target for councils.

The BFI recognised the 'sustained improvements' made to the service since the last BFI inspection in 2000, including a massive reduction in the backlog of work. Between December 2000 and October 2003 the service reduced its backlog of cases from 46,000 to 4,000. Improvements to processing times and reductions to the amount of overpaid benefit were acknowledged.

The report also pointed out the greater effort being made by the Council to deter fraud. There were 18 prosecutions against fraudsters in the last financial year compared to only one three years ago. However the inspectors said that the Council needs to do more to deter fraud.

When the last report on the service was made in December 2000 it revealed that 66% of telephone callers were abandoning their attempt to get through because of poor response times. The latest information showed that this had fallen to 6%

Councillor Liz Brookes, Cabinet Member for Customer Engagement said: "Our benefits service has improved its CPA rating from one to three out of four in one year, and we will not shy away from making further improvements. One of the functional areas looked at in the BFI report is customer services, and just this month we brought the service in-house to improve our service to customers. In the long term I am confident that the Benefits Service will become even more efficient, reducing fraud and preventing over-payments."

The Council is planning to introduce a new computer system to allow better integration between the departments that process housing benefit, council tax and business rates which they hope will improve the way the Benefits Service is managed.

April 16, 2004