Inspectors critical of council's failing benefits service

Contributed by editor on Jul 23, 2006 - 12:10 AM


Shepway Council is working to improve the way it deals with benefits claims following a critical inspection of its benefits service.

More people have now been recruited to the benefits team, fully trained agency staff have been taken o­n and a backlog of claims is being handled by an outside agency.

The steps are part of a package of measures to improve the way the council handles benefits claims and tackles the backlog.

The results of an independent inspection by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) released this week show that although staff were able to clear the volume of incoming claims, a backlog of around 1,000 cases was outstanding.

Inspectors found that the benefits service had failed to keep its claim processing work up to date since 2003. Between April 2005 and February 2006 the average time taken to process new claims was 56 days and the average time to process details about changes of circumstance was 36 days.

Since the inspection, processing times have been cut to 44 days and 26 days respectively and the council says it is working to reduce these times even more.

“The inspection highlighted the weaknesses we have already identified and are working hard to address,” said Cllr Brian Copping, Cabinet Member for Housing.

“We have recruited new staff, are providing further training for existing staff and have taken o­n agency staff to help bring us up to date.  The backlog is being handled by an agency outside the council and we hope to have it cleared by September."