Friday, 24 February 2012

Can Housing Benefits Get Any Worse?

Recently I wrote about how NCC had to repay over £400k in housing benefits subsidy due to 'shortcutting' procedures for classifying overpayments in the 2008/9 financial year. To put this into context the District Auditor initially estimated that over £2m had been overclaimed so it's fair to say her initial estimates, based on sampling, aren't carved in stone.

And we should also note that, after a strip being torn off them in 2008/9 things improved markedly in 2009/10 as the DA only found an estimated £78k overclaimed.

So problem solved yes?

No. The equivalent report for 2010/11 has now arrived in NCC's inbox and is to be discussed at the next Audit Committee meeting. Considering that the DA estimates a potential overclaim for the year of £729k the language is somewhat restrained. There is mention of a separate letter to the Head of Revenues and Benefits (my old mucker Lisa Black who's responsible for all this mismanagement) and perhaps there's a bit more plain speaking in that. I doubt it will go so far as the required "Why the fuck are you still in your job" but there you go.

The problem this time is apparently Council Tax Benefit, rather than Housing Benefit with 53% of the sample considered found to be incorrect. That's pretty bad.

NCC's Housing Benefits service is clearly lurching from crisis to crisis. As I wrote recently, the most recent performance figures show them to be the SECOND WORST IN THE COUNTRY for speed of processing new claims, the sort of thing that results in people losing their homes. Predictably there is an 'action plan' to solve the latest problems and all HB staff are to go through mandatory retraining (with exams at the end!) but, looking at all these rather ugly numbers and my own experience of some of the personalities involved, they really should be aiming their attention at the top.

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