Sunday, 1 March 2009

Nottingham City Council Internal Audit; Please Do Try and Keep Up

A little while ago I wrote about how NCC's Housing Benefits managers manipulated the assessment by the Benefits Fraud Inspectorate to give a somewhat optimistic impression of how good their service was. Well, belatedly, NCC's internal audit seems to have picked up on some of this.

An internal audit report which was considered by the Audit committee recently made the following comments;

"Quality performance and management is neither stringent nor robust and processing accuracy cannot be considered adequate. " 

"The outcomes of the post payment check should be of great concern to the service management. DWP performance standard at level 1 (the worst) for the percentage of cases for which the calculation of the amount of benefit due is correct is less than 96%. As at 31st January 2008, the City’s performance was only 93.1% overall and as low as 90.4% in quarter 2." 

"...they were all basic errors which should be easily avoided by well trained and motivated staff." 

"Quality assessments prepared by the quality team which were available to us by 31st January 2008 suggest that serious problems exist with the accuracy of new claims processing by in house staff. The quality team found that financial errors in new claims are running above 25%..."

Hmmm, I think I said all that. Essentially NCC have dumped quality in favour of speed because its worth a higher weighting in external assessments.

Then there's this little gem which surprised me;

"During the year, processing of new claims was progressively taken back in house. City Audit Services has, in previous years, been critical of external contractor performance. "

Hello? Did anybody else know that Housing Benefits were using external processing for claims? They certainly kept that one quiet. I can feel another Freedom of Information Act request coming on...

Then there's this;

"The City has a policy to encourage the legitimate take-up of is not clear when, where and to whom the policy and strategy has been communicated."

The phrase 'it is not clear when..' is usually in my experience polite codespeak for 'it hasn't...' and I know I was never told about it when I worked there and I reckon I would have been within the target audience.

Unfortunately, it goes off the boil a bit here;

"Our testing indicates that decision notices contain a standard paragraph drawing the claimant’s attention to the right to request a revision/review or appeal..."

Not true I'm afraid although it depends what you're talking about. As I've written, the standard notification template did not include this info at least not between March and December last year. However, if you get a bespoke letter then it does include it. However, this isa very small minority of cases. It looks like Housing Benefit management misled their own auditors by providing copies of the bespoke letter template instead of the standard notification template.

A quick look at the minutes of the actual meeting will obviously reveal a forensic and robust examination of these problems. Oh, not really...;

"(i) under ‘post payment checks’, Internal Audit had determined that the reasons for basic errors should be investigated and urgently fed back into targeted training to improve accuracy levels;

(ii) under ‘processing of new claims’, Internal Audit had determined that the reasons for poor performance should be investigated and urgently fed back into targeted training to improve accuracy levels;

In response to (i) and (ii) above, it was reported that both actions had been completed and all staff were now fully trained"

I bet they even said 'Lets move on...' Dumb ass mistakes continue to be made in my experience though, when I put my claim for Council Tax Benefit they got completely the wrong start date, the sort of error thats typical of somebody in a bit of a rush...

And there was this;

"...consideration should be given to ways of informing the public of what benefits they were eligible to claim"

Duh, thats a good idea, wonder how long it took for councillors to come up with that one. Will that include Discretionary Housing Payments?

Because again, there was absolutely no mention of these either in the audit report nor in the subsequent discussion. But then Nobody at NCC seems to be aware that they exist so thats par for the course.

No comments: