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 R ep ort b y the B ene fi t F ra ud I ns p e c to ra te P lym outh City Co unc il December 2001

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    Rep ort by the

    Benefit Fraud Inspec tora te

    Plymouth City Counc il

    December 2001

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    Highlighted parts of this rep ort are omitted from the pub lished version a s they ma y

    assist fraudsters, contain confidential information or unnecessarily identifyindividuals.

    PA BFI 555/ 02

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    Co pies of BFI reports a re a va ilab le from :

    The DWP Library

    Roo m 114

    The Ad elphi

    1 11 John Adam Street


    WC2N 6HT

    Tel: 020 7962 8176

    Fax: 020 7962 8491

    You c an a lso e -ma il req uests to

    [email protected]

    BFI reports are also available from the internet under

    Rep orts and Pub lica tionsa t

    Crown c op yright, Dec embe r 2001

    mailto:[email protected]://[email protected]
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    Conclusions 7

    Rec ommendations 15

    Findings 27

    Introduction 27Getting it right 33

    Cla im fo rm........................................................................................................37Verifica tion wo rk..............................................................................................38

    Dea ling with homeless pe op le .....................................................................52Rent Officer refe rra ls.......................................................................................54

    Payments on account ....................................................................................58

    Speed of p roc essing .......................................................................................61

    Liaison with other agenc ies...........................................................................67

    Keeping it right 69

    Renewal c laims ...............................................................................................69

    Changes of c ircumsta nc es...........................................................................70Not ices of determina tion ...............................................................................73

    Risk assessing c laims........................................................................................73

    Benefit periods.................................................................................................74Targe te d checks.............................................................................................75

    Reviews and compla ints................................................................................76Dealing with landlords....................................................................................80

    Liaison with the Housing Dep artme nt ..........................................................81

    Inte rna l security and controls........................................................................82

    Sta ff ve tt ing ......................................................................................................84

    Post opening ....................................................................................................85

    Payment and accounting methods............................................................86

    Training and guidanc e...................................................................................88Liaison with BA on changes of circumstances...........................................89

    Liaison w ith ES on c hanges of c ircumsta nc es............................................90

    Putting it right 91


    Fraud ...............................................................................................................106Sanc tions........................................................................................................125

    Making sure the strategy works 137

    Co rpo rate polic ies and strategy ................................................................137

    Planning ..........................................................................................................138

    Best Va lue .......................................................................................................139

    Perfo rma nc e mon itoring a nd a ssurance ..................................................141

    Orga nisation ..................................................................................................142Inte rna l Aud it .................................................................................................143

    External Audit .................................................................................................146

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    Me mbers invo lvem ent ................................................................................148

    App endix A: Methodology 153

    Appendix B: Claim form 159

    Append ix C: IT sec urity 167

    Append ix D: Post op ening 175

    Abbreviations 177

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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pag e 7






    IntroductionLoc a l authorities (LAs) pay over 13.7 billion to 4.5 million peo p le on

    Housing Benefit (HB) a nd Co unc il Tax Benefit (CTB). La testestimates,

    pub lished in the Nationa l Housing Bene fit Ac curacy Review 1997/ 98,

    suggest tha t 840 million is lost each yea r throug h fraud and error.

    The g ove rnme nt is com mitted to e nsuring the right mo ney g oe s to

    the right p erson. A ne w c ontrac t fo r welfare: SAFEGUARDING SOC IAL

    SECURITYset out the go vernment s stra teg y for ac hieving this. It c a lledfor sustained and detailed effort across 4 fronts:

    ge tting it right be nefit p aym ents should b e c orrec t from da y one

    kee ping it right ensuring payments a re a d justed as c ircumsta nc es


    putting it right de tec ting w hen pa yments go wrong and taking

    promp t ac tion to c orrec t them with app rop riate pe nalties to p revent

    a rec urrenc e, and

    ma king sure the strateg y wo rks by monitoring progress, evaluating

    the streng th of d efenc es and ad justing them in the light ofexperience.

    The Benefit Fraud Inspec tora te (BFI) is an integra l pa rt o f this

    stra teg y. Throug h our rep orts on LAs and the age nc ies of the

    Departme nt fo r Work and Pensions (the Dep artme nt), forme rly known a s

    the Departme nt of Soc ia l Sec urity, we a im to :

    identify area s where improvements can be m ade to b enefit

    administra tion to ra ise ove ra ll standa rds

    ma ke rec om menda tions to a ddress we aknesses, and

    identify and sp rea d go od p rac tices am ong ad ministrato rs.

    In our inspec tion, we loo ked a t the administra tion o f HB and CTB

    and the proc esses and proc ed ures Plymouth City Counc il (Plymouth)

    had in plac e to p revent, dete c t and investiga te fraud in the benefit


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    pa ge 8 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il









    Ma in c onc lusions and rec om menda tionsPlymouth wa s go ing through a ma jor period of c hang e a t the time

    of our inspec tion. The benefits servic e:

    had been restruc tured during 1999/ 2000

    had introd uce d do cument ima ge processing (DIP) in Novemb er2000, 4 months befo re o ur on-site inspec tion

    implemented the Verification Framework (VF) during our on-site


    Plymouth showe d a com mitment to mode rnising and imp roving its

    service b y introduc ing these c hanges. How eve r, at the t ime of our on-

    site inspec tion it wa s too ea rly to judg e whether these c ha nges wo uld

    deliver the improve ments req uired .

    The introd uc tion of DIP led to an initial dec line in p rod uc tivity and

    an increa se in b acklog s, caused by IT prob lem s and sta ff ad justing tothe new system . The rise in the backlog coinc ided with the

    imp lem enta tion o f VF.

    We were p leased tha t while w e w ere on site, Plymouth d rew up a

    ba c klog c lea ranc e strate gy to d ea l with a short-term backlog prob lem.

    Plymouth ha d p oo r standards of verifica tion prior to the introd uc tion

    of VF. This me ans its c urrent c aseloa d is likely to have a d isprop ortiona te

    numb er of fraud ulent and errone ous claims. Plymouth has taken the first

    step to addressing this by imp leme nting VF.

    The on-site inspec tion c ame a t a d iffic ult t ime for Plymouth, as itcoincided with problems follow ing the introd uc tion of DIP and the

    imp lem enta tion of VF. In a dd ition, the trad e un ions we re taking industria l

    ac tion at the t ime o f our on-site inspec tion, inc lud ing som e one-day

    strikes. How eve r, Plymouth a pproa ched the inspec tion in a p ositive w ay

    and v iew ed it as an op portunity to review its op erations to improve .

    We were enc ourag ed that Plymouth had taken a ma nag er off line

    9 months befo re the inspec tion to review previous BFI rep orts and the

    Good Prac tic e G uideto ide ntify areas of be nefit a nd fraud investiga tion

    which nee ded to b e a ddressed and upd a ted . This resulted in p olic y and

    proc ed ura l c hang es, which can be d eveloped further, to imp rove thesec urity and efficienc y of the system .

    Getting it right

    Plymouth is taking step s to sec ure the ga tew ay to bene fit by

    introd uc ing VF. This wa s being imp leme nte d whilst we w ere on-site. Our

    samp ling of the sma ll numb er of cases which Plymo uth wa s about to

    assess using VF guidelines showed that Plymouth was verifying these

    cases to a muc h highe r standa rd of verific ation tha n b efore VF


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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pag e 9



    The ma jority o f the c ases we samp led we re assessed befo re VF

    wa s imp lem ente d . The o verall sta ndard of verifica tion of c la ims wa s

    poo r, pa rticularly on renew al c la ims. Plymouth ha d tem po rarily low ered

    its norma l standards of verifica tion on renew a ls during the period

    samp led to c lear outstand ing w ork befo re the introd uc tion of DIP. New

    c la ims we re ve rified to a higher sta ndard , but still failed to m ee t the

    minimum req uirem ents of VF. Plymo uth w as failing to c om ply with the

    req uirem ents of sec tion 1(1A) and 1(1B) of the Soc ial Sec urity

    Ad ministration Ac t 1992 (SSAA 1992) in most o f the renew al cla ims


    Befo re VF, Plymouth ha d sep a ra te c la im forms for ea c h tenure

    type and a shortened renewa l form. All the fo rms had seve re

    we aknesses, which impa ired sound verifica tion. Plymouth introd uc ed a

    new c laim fo rm shortly be fore o ur inspec tion. This is a ma jor

    improvem ent on the p rev ious forms in terms of design, user friend liness

    and data c ap tured , but has some we aknesses XXXXXXXXXXXX

    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Plymouth a gree d to amend the

    c la im fo rm in line w ith our rec om mendations, whic h should help

    Plymo uth imp rove its sta nda rds of ve rifica tion in future.






    The b acklog that ha d d eveloped follow ing the introd uc tion o f DIP

    resulted in leng thy d elays in p roc essing c la ims and an increa se in c a llers

    to rec ep tion. As a result, Plymouth s performa nc e for p roc essing c la ims

    and see ing customers wa s dec lining a nd failed to m ee t its ta rge ts.

    Plymouth has som e in-bu ilt ineffic ienc ies in its p roc ed ures for

    ma king refe rra ls to the Rent Office r (RO) w hich c ont ribute to delays and

    the nec essity to ma ke la rge numbers of p ayments on a cc ount (POAs).Plymouth fa ils to meet the leg a l req uirem ent und er HB Reg ulation 12A(3)

    and (4) to m ake RO refe rra ls in releva nt c ases within 3 days, or as soo n

    as prac tic ab le thereafter.

    Plymouth ha s introd uced a system of m ana ge ment chec ks which

    is a we lcom e step in imp roving the a c c urac y and sec urity of the

    bene fits system . How eve r, we found flaws in the selec tion and c onte nt

    of the c hecks wh ich limit the ir effe c tivene ss. This need s to be a dd ressed

    to e nsure Plymouth gets the full bene fit o f its ma na ge ment c hec ks.

    Plymo uth has Service Level Ag ree me nts (SLAs) with b oth the loc a l

    Benefits Ag enc y (BA) a nd Emp loyme nt Service (ES) offices and they

    me et reg ularly. How ever, Plymo uth s mo nitoring of the SLAs is restric ted

    to c hec king the d ate of rec eipt o f NHB1s.

    Imp lem ent ing our rec om menda tions will imp rove sec urity,

    ac c uracy and de livery of bene fits by:

    imp roving the da ta g a thered from the c la im form

    red ucing the b ac klog

    ensuring Plymouth a nd BA a nd ES wo rk more e ffec tively tog ethe r to

    sec ure the g a tew ay to b ene fits.

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    pa ge 10 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il








    Kee p ing it right

    Plymouth a ims to keep pa yments right throug hout the pe riod of

    the c laim by:

    inviting c la ima nts to rec laim a t the app rop riate time

    pub lic ising c laimants d uties to no tify cha nges

    using com pute r-ge nera ted rep orts to identify cha nge s

    visiting c ases whe re renewa ls have not bee n returned

    send ing no tices of d etermination tha t c om ply with leg al


    How ever, it c ould d o m ore to keep payme nts right b y:

    inc luding p ublic ity on rep orting chang es on its c heq ues

    ta rget ing its visiting ac tivity m ore c losely to risk

    ta iloring bene fit p eriod s to ind ividua l circumstanc es, in p articular bya ligning b enef it pe riods to Working Families Tax Cred it (WFTC).

    Plymouth ta kes prom pt ac tion to stop or suspend bene fit whe re a

    chang e ha s oc curred . Althoug h this is com menda b le in preventing o r

    red uc ing ove rpayments, Plymouth need s to ensure it:

    app lies the reg ulat ions reg ard ing suspensions prop erly

    takes ap propriate follow -up ac tion p rom ptly to ensure c la ima nts a re

    pa id the c orrec t be nefit.

    Plymouth does not identify requests for reviews correctly and fails

    to dea l with the se w ithin the sta tutory timesca les. It a lso misses thetimesc a les it sets for respond ing to com pla ints and doe s not mo nitor

    these. As a result, it is missing an opportunity to improve its service to


    We found Plymouth ha d granted inap p rop riate acc ess levels to IT

    users and nee ds to review and upda te the se to ensure the sec urity and

    integ rity o f the benefits system.

    Plymouth dem onstrates a strong com mitment to training a nd

    deve lop ing its sta ff throug h the w ork of its service d eve lop me nt tea m.

    The te am has produced c lea r wo rking proc ed ures and an informa tive

    newslette r for all sta ff.

    Plymouth has regular meetings with private landlords. However it

    need s to d o mo re to tac kle land lord fraud , inc luding a pplying the fit

    and prope r person test, developing a sched ule o f pa yments and using

    its pow ers to d ed uc t ove rpayments from land lords in ap prop ria te

    c ircumsta nc es. Similarly, a lthoug h it mee ts reg ularly w ith the Housing

    Depa rtment (HD), working a rrang em ents could b e improved by p utting

    the relationship on a more forma l basis, throug h the de velopm ent o f a n


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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 11








    Imp lem enting our rec om mend ations will imp rove the sa fegua rds

    for keep ing payme nts right during the lifetime of a c laim b y:

    rem ind ing c la ima nts and land lords of the ir duties to report cha nges

    quickly and acc ura tely to Plymouth

    tailoring benefit periods more appropriately to individual

    c ircumstances, thereb y red uc ing ove rpa yments

    improv ing IT sec urity a nd c ontrols.

    Putt ing it right

    Plymouth s ma nag em ent a nd c ontrol of ove rpa yments is po or.

    Plymouth fa ils to use a ll ava ilable method s of rec ove ry for ove rpayment.

    We found a gene ral failure to ac c ount for the volume, value a nd a ge of

    deb ts in the bene fit system .

    Plymouth's assessment staff are responsible for recovering Rent

    Allow ance (RA) overpa yments by:

    ma king d ed uc tions from o ngo ing b enefit where the claimant

    continues to claim

    invoicing de bts where b enefit has c ea sed .

    At the time of our on-site inspec tion, an income office r and

    temp orary mem be r of sta ff were unde rtaking an exerc ise to rec over

    overpa yments that had be en invoic ed in respe c t of som e 90 ca ses.

    Although this spec ific exerc ise is being und ertaken, there is no

    ove rpayment tea m o r office r spec ific a lly responsib le fo r rec ove ry of

    ove rpayments from invoices. Plymouth is fa iling to p rote c t the pub lic

    purse e ffec tive ly. This raises c onc erns over the loss of revenue .

    Plymo uth, a lso a t the time o f our site visit, submitte d a rep ort to

    co mmittee to e xpa nd its rec overy op tions and introd uce a de dica ted

    overpa yment te am. Subseq uent to our visit w e were told the rep ort ha d

    been app roved.

    In respec t o f Rent Reb a te (RR) cases, all overpayme nts, inc luding

    those where there is ong oing b ene fit, are transferred to a sub a c count

    on the housing rent system. It is the responsibility of the individua l esta te

    ma na gers to rec over the overpayme nt. This is no t a p riority as the

    em pha sis for esta te ma na gers is to red uc e rent a rrea rs in the firstinstance.

    Bene fit sta ff told us tha t no p erforma nc e ta rgets have b een set

    and that no m ana ge ment c hec ks are performed on overpayments.

    Without the se c hec ks, Plymouth c annot b e c onfident tha t the work in

    this a rea is effe c tive.

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    pa ge 12 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il




    Plymouth ha s a system to ensure tha t o verpa yments a re ident ified

    prom ptly by stopp ing bene fit payments as soo n as information is

    rec eived. Whilst this red uces the a mount of o verpa yment c rea ted and

    limits the a mo unt identified as LA error, we we re c onc erned tha t this wa s

    ac hieved without providing a correc t and timely notifica tion to the

    c laima nt. This req uirem ent is in reg ulat ion 96A(4) of the Housing Benefit

    (Genera l) Reg ulat ion 1987 (HB Reg ulat ions).

    At the time o f our on-site inspec tion, Plymouth ha d set up an

    exerc ise to instiga te rec ove ry ac tion in respec t of a spec ific numb er of

    ove rpayment c ases. The o b jec tive of the exerc ise w as to inc rea se its

    effec tivene ss in the rec ove ry of o verpa id HB.

    Plymouth ha s a c lea r com mitment to imp rove pe rforma nce in







    We identified som e a spec ts of Plymo uth s wo rk on which we we re

    ab le to c omm ent fa vourably. These included :

    moveme nt tow ards prosec utions

    c lose w orking with Benefit Fraud Inve stiga tion Servic e (BFIS)

    review of p roc ed ures nec essa ry to p rovide sta ff with instruc tions and

    guida nce on how to ta ke forward aspe c ts of fraud work.

    How ever, desp ite the introduc tion of va rious polic ies and

    guida nce a nd a n extensive training p rog ram me a imed a t imp roving the

    qua lity of w ork, the b ulk of investiga tions und ertaken w ere sha llow and

    did no t produce successful outc ome s. We w ere co ncerned that to o

    much time wa s spent focused on Weekly Benefit Savings (WBS) by wa y

    of residenc y che c ks and not enoug h a ttention wa s pa id to investiga ting

    fraud.Plymouth rec og nised these w ea knesses and told us tha t theintrod uc tion of various polic ies and g uida nc e a nd a n extensive training

    prog ramm e d uring late 2000 and e arly 2001 wa s a imed a t imp roving the

    qua lity of fraud wo rk.

    1.39 XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX in most typ es of f raud and

    visiting work. This mainly surrounds: XXXXXXXX






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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 13




    We also c om me nt adversely on the fa ilure to fully co nsolida te the

    tra ining p rovide d to a ll investiga tion sta ff. Plymo uth to ld us tha t it had

    tried to a ddress this by alloc a ting fraud cases on a b ility and tea ming

    new er sta ff with more experienc ed investiga tors. In add ition we found


    limited m ana ge ment controls a re no t identifying a nd c orrec tingweaknesses and deficiencies

    ta rgets a imed solely at a c hieving WBS do little to p rovide a

    ba lanc ed mea surement o f performa nce .

    Although the performa nc e ta rgets set fo r the investiga tion sta ff are

    entirely ba sed on ac hieving WBS ta rgets, we ra ised c onc erns about the

    qua lity of investiga tion ta ken to support WBS c laims in over 40% of the

    cases we samp led . External Aud it (EA) a lso q uestioned the va lid ity of

    WBS c laims when exam ining the 1999/2000 sub sidy c laim, resulting in a

    red uc tion o f 10% in c laims to WBS for tha t yea r.

    We a lso noted that the lac k of an effective c ase ma nag ement

    system seve rely limits the amo unt o f da ta ava ilab le a nd subseq uent ly

    restric ts any useful ana lysis of performa nc e and identific a tion o f future

    risks to benefits.Plymouth to ld us tha t it has now purchased anestablished fraud case management system.



    tha t it must ra ise the standa rd of its fraud wo rk if it is to be a b le to m ee t

    leg a l req uirem ents, imp ose sanc tions, and provide assuranc es tha t a ny

    subsidy claim c an withstand sc rutiny and c ha lleng e.1.44




    Implementing our recommendations will:

    imp rove the rec overy rate of overpa yments

    enc ourage b ette r ta rge ting, planning a nd c ontrol of fraud

    investiga tions and visits

    provide grea ter assuranc e on the q ua lity of fraud investiga tion work

    be ing undertaken.

    Ma king sure the strate gy wo rks

    Plymouth a pproved a c orporate a nti-fraud strate gy in Novemb er2000. This is und erpinned by som e op erationa l guide lines includ ing:

    guida nce on p rosec ution, administra tive p ena lties and c autions

    a sta ff de c la ra tion of interest form.

    How ever, Plymouth ne ed s to deve lop further gu idelines to fully

    support the stra teg y, inc lud ing a c od e o f co nduc t for visiting sta ff.

    The d eferment of VF meant tha t VF wa s imp lem ented a t a d ifficult

    time whe n the servic e wa s enc ountering m ajor ba c klog s but Plymouth

    nee ds to review and build on its current p lanning p roc esses.

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    pa ge 14 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il







    Plymouth ha s not yet d eve lop ed its DIP system to p rod uc e

    mea ningful ma nag ement informa tion a nd de velop an effective

    pe rforma nce mo nitoring a nd m anag em ent reg ime . Plymouth told us

    tha t this wa s due to p rob lem s with system func tiona lity. It now nee ds to

    ta c kle this as a p riority to ensure the service ma kes the nec essary

    imp roveme nts, ma ximising DIP to its full potential.

    DIP and VF have introd uced new wa ys of w orking fo r sta ff and we

    support Plymouth s p lans to review the imp ac t of the se on the

    orga nisa tion to ensure the restruc ture is helping it m ake the mo st

    effec tive use o f sta ff.

    We w ere disapp ointed tha t Plymouth ha d failed to implement a

    series of Interna l Aud it (IA) and EA recom me ndations tha t wo uld ha ve

    helped it sec ure the system e arlier.

    We c onsider that Plymo uth ha s set itself a c ha lleng ing p rog ramm e

    of c hang e. It will need to improve its ma nag eme nt informa tion a nd

    cont rol signific antly to deliver and ma inta in improvements.

    Implementing our recommendations will:

    imp rove ma nag em ent information ava ilab le from DIP

    imp rove pe rforma nce and effic ienc y

    provide grea ter assuranc e on the sec urity and integ rity of the


    On b eha lf of the inspe c tion te am , I thank the Chief Exec utive,

    senior officers and sta ff of Plymouth fo r their support and co-op eration

    during this inspec tion.

    Susan Lingwood

    BFI Programm e Ma nager

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    Rec omm enda tions

    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 15

    Rec ommendations

    Getting it right recommendations

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph

    Plymouth ensures that it regularly gathers sufficient managementinformation on:

    the typ e o f callers (HB or CT)

    the length of time taken on rec ep tion

    waiting times for rec ep tion and private interviews

    the rea son for the call to the office and by phone.



    revises its c laim fo rm to ensure it is consistent with BFIs GoodPractice Guideand the mode l claim form



    Plymouth ensures that c ases where the c laimant has not rep lied toreq uests for further informa tion are c losed down and the c laimant

    notified ap propriately.


    Plymouth ensures its standards of verification are improved to m eet a tleast the minimum requirements of VF.



    introd uces guida nce and proc edures for HPU to ensureverifica tion is effic ient and thorough, ensuring accurate and

    timely verifica tion of home less c laimants prov ides imm ed iate VF training to HPU staff

    shares information in respect of potentially violent persons andunsafe addresses to safeguard po tentia l risks to m em be rs of staff.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    pa ge 16 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il

    Getting it right recommendations

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph


    ensures it has proced ures in place to send referra ls to the ROimmed iately on rec eipt of the c laim

    tra ins those staff responsible for mak ing the ap prop riate ROreferrals

    ensures previous records of RO referra ls are chec ked to p reventunnecessary referrals

    ensures a ll returned RO referrals are ac tioned p romp tly.


    Plymouth de velop s and pub lishes proce dures for staff that include therequirement to refer appropriate HA cases to the RO.



    signs an SLA with the RS. This should contain agreed fo rmal targetsand provide a mec hanism for monitoring pe rforma nce ag ainstthese targets

    provides fraud awareness training a nd introduc es proc edures forthe RO to follow whe n ma king a referral.


    Plymouth implem ents a control to ensure a final determination is ma depromp tly when the RO d ec ision is rec eived in POA c ases.


    Plymouth reviews its system of ma nag ement c hec ks to e nsure tha tthey:

    inc lude cases selec ted from the HBIS system

    cover all areas including a ccurac y of inputs and pa yments

    are reco rded, ana lysed a nd used to feedba ck errors to staff anddeve lop training.


    Plymouth provides training for manag ers respo nsible for manag em entchecks to ensure that the checks are comp leted ac curately and


    sam ples of checks are re-p erformed to assure their qua lity.


    analyses the rea sons for de lays in c laims processing

    identifies bloc kages and ways to ensure it red uces the end -to-end p rocessing time and ac hieves its 14-day ta rget

    reviews the working prac tices of the c laims verifica tion team a nduse o f manag em ent informa tion ava ilable from DIP to ensure theeffic iency of proc esses and improve speed of processing.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 17

    Getting it right recommendations

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph

    to clea r the bac klog a nd p revent future bac klogs building up,Plymouth:

    nominates an o ffice r with responsibility for ma nag ing the ba cklog

    ring fences the b ac klog

    deals with new inco ming work on a da ily b asis to p revent futurebac klogs developing

    c losely mo nitors the pe rformance of its plan ag ainst key targe tda tes and milestones

    ensures c laims are qua lity checked to ma ke sure that ac curac y isnot c omp romised by spee d of proce ssing

    reviews the staffing leve ls and p roduc tivity of all sec tions to ensurethey a re a dequa tely resourced to meet the needs of VF and DIP.


    Plymouth builds upon its existing p rog ram me of exchang e visits toensure a ll staff have the op po rtunity to visit co lleagues in BA.



    ma kes its staff awa re o f the detailed content o f the SLA a nd theirrespo nsibilities to achieve the ta rge ts

    ag rees a forma l monitoring p rocess for the SLA with BA tha tincludes some testing of achievement against all areas in the SLA

    targets throug h the ye ar.


    Plymouth a nd ES at the first meeting discuss and a gree methods offormally testing the SLA ag ainst its stated targe ts.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    pa ge 18 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il

    Keeping it right recommendations

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph

    Plymouth ensures that a ny c hang es in policy or proc edures are

    effec tively co mm unic ated to staff and checks are put in plac e toensure that new proc edures are followe d.


    Plymouth adopts the rec omm enda tion ma de by IA and nego tiates achang e of design of its cheques to include a statement ab out reporting

    changes of circumstance s.



    reviews its proc ed ures for suspending c laims to ensure c laimantsare notified c orrec tly

    identifies an effec tive wa y o f mana ging the throughp ut ofchanges of c ircumstanc es using DIP to ensure that further ac tionand reassessments are com pleted promptly.


    Plymouth a ligns all awards of bene fit to the p eriod of award of WFTC,and on e xpiry of HB takes into ac count any c hang es to WFTC.


    Plymouth ensures that staff are no longe r applying the toleranc e ruleby identifying incoming post that would result in a sma ll reduc tion in HB

    and trac king it to ensure that the appropriate c hange is comp leted.


    Plymouth considers including reference to its com pla int proce dures inthe notices of determination or inc ludes its leaflet on c om pla ints with all



    Plymouth continues to m onitor closely the c ases in Group A to ensurethat they receive a visit before the case is c losed .


    Plymouth sets up p rocedures to ensure benefit periods are tailored toindividual circumstanc es, suc h as WFTC pe riod s, where appropriate.


    Plymouth applies a m ore stringent test to the c lassification of cases that

    require a c tion b y g iving c learer guidance to the staff who a reundertaking the indexing of incoming reviews and ap pea ls post.


    Plymouth ensures that it has system s in place tha t will imp rove on itscurrent method s and pe rformance in hand ling c ases under the new

    ap pea ls regime .



    formally ana lyses a ll HB/ CTB com plaints that it receives and usesthis information to improve the service that it p rovides to itscustomers

    mo nitors and regularly reviews the e ffec tiveness of HB/ CTBcomp laint handling procedures on the service d evelopm ent teamto ensure all co rporate targe ts are met.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 19

    Keeping it right recommendations

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph

    Plymouth uses its existing information to apply the 'fit and properpe rson' test to land lords where a pp ropriate.


    the effec tiveness of the relationship b etwe en Bene fits and Housingco uld be improved by:

    introd uc ing a forma l SLA with stated pe rforma nce a ims andreg ular m onitoring

    nominating a senior office r to ensure b oth departments work mo reeffectively together.


    Plymouth ame nds its IT sec urity policy to c ove r:

    proc edures for rep orting security b reac hes

    upd ating user ac cess levels

    monitoring standards to ensure c om plianc e with the strateg y.


    to reduce the risk of internal fraud and error Plymouth:

    carries out a risk a ssessme nt of its data ba se of users to e nsureac cess levels are a pp rop riate to users duties, deleting a ndam ending ac cess where nec essary

    upd ates its user da tabase on a reg ular basis

    devises procedures to ensure user permissions are reviewed when

    staff leave or transfer

    rewrites the user form to ensure each form only a llows access forone user.


    Plymouth amend s its staff dec larations to me et AC rec om menda tions. 2.304

    Plymouth introduces procedures to ensure post opening is consistentwith BFIs Good Prac tice Guide.


    Plymouth provide s ap propriate fac ilities to sec urely pa y HB to thosewithout bank ac counts.


    Plymouth improves its reco rd keeping of landlords and introd ucesschedule pa yments for landlo rds with more than one tenant.


    Plymouth ad op ts a forma l appraisal system that will allow ma nag ers toidentify the training need s of their staff, monitor and eva luate

    ac hievement of training ob jec tives.


    Plymouth monitors the ac hievem ent of the service d eve lopm ent teamag ainst stated aims and ob jec tives for 2000/ 01.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    pa ge 20 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il

    Keeping it right recommendations

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph

    as a m inimum , RAT chec ks are c ompleted w hen a ny a ssessment isdone on an IS/ JSA c ase and that where an indica tor is not c orrec tly set

    BA is notified to m ake the nec essary am endment.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 21

    Putting it right rec ommenda tions

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph

    Plymouth designates an officer to be fully respo nsible for debt rec overy

    and debt mana ge ment to ensure full priority is given to the rigo rouscollection of outstanding overpayments.



    monitors the ac curac y o f classification to p rovide managementinformation on the reason for overpayments and providesap prop riate training to staff

    monitors and takes ap prop riate a c tion on reports identifyingreassessments by creating appropriate credits or debits to ensureoverpayments are c lassified c orrec tly.



    immediately implements section 75(5) and (6) to enable recoveryto be ma de from land lords from HB rece ived in respec t of otherclaimants

    pursues ove rpa yments effec tively and effic iently b y using allrec overy methods availab le.



    ma kes deduc tions from ongoing benefit for all RR cases where thec laimant is in rec eip t of HB and stops transferring overpaym ents to

    the sub a ccount of the rent ac count in these c ases

    sets app rop riate targets in respec t of RR overpa yment rec overy.



    learns lessons from Operation Rec laim and ensures it sets upeffective p roc edures to rec ove r of all HB overpa yment debtseffec tively b y Decemb er 2001

    regularly monitors cases on the d eb t system aga inst HB c laims toensure o pp ortunities are no t missed to rec over from ongo ingbenefit

    uses all methods of rec ove ry to m axim ise the opp ortunity torec over outstanding d ebt.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    pa ge 22 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il

    Putting it right rec ommenda tions

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph

    Plymouth introduces:

    manageme nt chec ks of at least 10% of the weekly overpaymentcaseload to provide a ssuranc e of the ac curac y of ca lculation and

    c lassifica tion and ensure staff work c onsistently and com ply with thewritten proce dural guidanc e

    a d ed icated team responsible for the recove ry of overpaymentsto ensure consistenc y, effec tiveness and ownership rec overingoverpayments

    mea ningful and ac hievable recovery performance targets toallow ac curate assessment of its pe rformance

    monitoring and ana lysis to ensure tha t the most ap propriate a ndeffective recove ry me thod is used .



    provides staff involved in the c laiming, ma nageme nt check ingand validation of WBS with at lea st the releva nt pa rts of theSubsidy Order and guida nc e to ensure with this is followedcorrectly

    drafts and implements a code o f conduc t which a dd resses thestandards expec ted of investigation a nd visiting staff in theirdea lings with the p ublic and other bodies.


    Plymouth reviews its pe rforma nce ind ica tors so tha t it ca n p rovidemore balanced targets and measures on, at the very lea st:

    file holdings

    outputs of work

    qua lity and e ffec tiveness of performa nce

    use o f ava ilab le sanc tions.


    Plymouth adopts a wide r risk-b ased ap proach to c laims selec ted forproactive visiting. It should also analyse the results and effectiveness of

    pa st visiting ac tivity to ensure future fraud w ork:

    concentrates on those category of c laim a nd postal d istrictsfound to p rovide the highest risks to Plymouth and whensuccessfully investigated will lead to a grea ter deterrent

    provides a balanc ed a pp roac h between fraud investiga tionac tivity and non-residenc y visiting.


    Plymouth introd uces proced ures that will:

    ensure p romp t ac tion on rec eip t of an HBMS referra l to co nfirmvalidity of matc h

    introd uce p riority of ca ses to be investigated or overloaded

    ensure that HBMS is notified of the results from all cases, whateverthe outcom es.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 23

    Putting it right rec ommenda tions

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph



    Plymouth maximises publicity to ensure tha t memb ers of the p ublic areencouraged to report suspic ions of fraud and are ma de awa re o f the

    telephone number availab le to do so.


    Plymouth raises master files on a ll proac tive fraud drives which can bec ross-referenc ed aga inst ind ividua l investiga tion files. These control

    files should contain:

    reasons for suspe c ting fraud a c tivity

    da te and deta ils of initial app roach to emp loyee o r land lord

    rec ord of emp loyee or land lord respo nse

    full list of emp loye es or tenants

    numb er of investigations unde rtake n and outc omes on WBS andfraud overpayments.


    Plymouth undertakes a review of its proc ess for selec ting c ases for visit.This review should ensure that future ac tivity conc entrates on mak ing

    the most effec tive use o f resources by identifying cases that:

    can be investiga ted without undue delay

    are within a high risk c ateg ory.


    Plymouth ensures that:

    all investigation files contain a c om plete a udit trail by inc ludinginformation showing:

    reason for commencement of investigation

    evidenc e ob tained in support of the a llega tion

    full rec ord of all ac tions take n and reasons

    comp lete c losure repo rt

    staff involved in the investigation o f fraud ha ve full regard to andcomp ly with the CPIA cod e of prac tice.


    to ensure und isputed evidenc e is ob tained during an investigation,Plymouth fraud office rs must:

    ask open questions of c laimants and land lords about the reasonsfor not dec laring a change of circumstance s

    prove fraudulent intent, based on the b alanc e o f probab ility, by ac laimant or land lord.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    pa ge 24 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il

    Putting it right rec ommenda tions

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph

    all staff involved in interviewing suspec ted fraud ulent c laimants whilstunde r caution m ust have full reg ard to the requirements of PACE cod e

    of p rac tice and RIPA.


    Plymouth ensures that any de lays in taking forward investigation workare kept to a minimum. If delays do oc cur, reasons must be fully



    Plymouth reviews its ma nag em ent c hec ks to ensure they provide :

    qua lity assuranc e on all areas and aspec ts of fraud work

    future g uidanc e a nd feedbac k to staff on the e ffec tiveness ofinvestigative work unde rtake n.


    the outcome o f an investiga tion and feedb ac k from m anag eme ntchec ks is provided in writing. This allows for:

    identification of pa tterns

    feed ing of outcom es into training p lans

    assisting on the ongoing monitoring o f work.


    Plymouth reviews its process for the a llocation of fraud rela ted work tothose staff who have be en trained to undertake fraud work. Plymouth

    must ensure tha t a ll staff are:

    given a b alanc e of fraud and non fraud work

    provided with the opportunity to consolidate training receivedand ga in experience in a wide range of fraud investiga tionactivity.



    and BFIS ap po int nominated liaison o ffice rs in ac cordance withthe SLA

    ensures that a ll approp riate staff know how to access the SLA and

    are aware o f its core requirements

    introduces ma nagement checks to ensure the ag reed targets arebeing achieved.


    Plymouth urgently imp lements the SLA1 p roced ures to ensure that BFISis notified at the ea rliest opportunity of those investiga tions raised

    where there is a BA interest.


    Plymouth conduc ts an urgent ove rhaul of proc ed ures for the rece ipt,completion a nd return of form QB64 and QB65 to ensure c omplianc e

    with the 10-da y turnaround targe t ag reed in the 2000/ 01 SLA w ith BFIS.


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    Rec omm enda tions

    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 25

    Making sure the strategy works recommendations

    We rec omm end that: Paragraph

    Plymouth introd uces a c ode o f conduc t for visiting staff. 2.576


    ma ximises use o f its DIP system to p rovide meaningful informationon workflow, c learance rates and the breakdown of any bac klogs

    sets individual pe rformanc e ta rge ts on the speed , ac curac y a ndqua lity of work

    monitors ac hievem ents and com municates these regularly tostaff.


    Plymouth Revenues reviews its working prac tices and organisation by

    Dec em be r 2001 to take ac count of DIP and VF and to ensure it isworking effectively.



    reconsiders the num ber of IA da ys tha t it a llocates to HB and CTBwork and estab lishes an a pp rop riate a nnual minimum, includingaud its of c ounter fraud

    sets up proc edures to ensure tha t IA rec om menda tions areproperly considered a nd imp lemented, and progress is reportedto the Chief Exec utive and Mem be rs.


    bo th DA and Plymouth agree and introduce effec tive monitoringproc ed ures that ensure that rec om menda tions ma de a re prog ressed ,

    and any d elays to implem enta tion are rep orted to the Chief Exec utive

    and Memb ers.


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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 27







    IntroductionInformation required for this inspec tion, a nd p resented in th is rep ort,

    wa s ga thered from a rang e of source s, inc lud ing :


    the Depa rtment


    loca l BA a t Durley House a nd ES a t Devo np ort

    the Rent Service (RS)


    Althoug h key informa tion wa s c ollec ted ea rlier, muc h o f the

    de tailed da ta wa s ga thered during the on-site p hase o f the inspec tion

    from 5 March 2001 to

    30 Ma rc h 2001, during which time we inte rview ed sta ff and samp led the

    following cases:

    67 new c la ims assessed betw een Novem ber 2000 to January 200167 rene wa l cla ims assessed betw ee n Nove mb er 2000 to Janua ry


    15 new and rene wa l cases which Plymouth were about to a ssess

    using VF guidanc e during Ma rch 2001

    68 ove rpa yment c ases

    68 fraud c ases.

    All samp les were rand om ly selec ted , except for 7 of the 68 fraud

    cases, which Plymouth selec ted and asked us to e xamine to g ive

    ad vic e a nd g uida nce on its performa nce follow ing fraud training for

    visiting officers (VOs).

    Plymouth is loc a ted in south west Eng land . The autho rity b ec ame

    unita ry in 1998 and it has a pop ulat ion of 250,000.

    Plymo uth is ranked as the 81st most d ep rived autho rity in Eng land

    (source Departme nt o f Emp loyment, Transport and the Reg ions Indices

    of Deprivation 2000). This figure d isguises severe p oc kets of depriva tion

    within its a rea . Four wa rds in Plymo uth a re amo ng st the wo rst 10% in


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    pa ge 28 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il

    Benefit expend iture a ndcaseload2.6






    Fig. 2.1: HB and CTB expenditure

    In 2000/ 01 Plymouth pa id out 61.8 million in

    HB and CTB. This rep resented 15% of its gross

    revenue expend iture o f 406.1 million . Plymouth is

    the 52nd highest benefits spending LA in Great

    Brita in. The brea kdown of b ene fit expend iture

    over the last 3 years is detailed in Figure 2.1.

    31.3 31.330.2

    20.321.6 21.4

    9.9 10.4 10.2









    1998/99 1999/2000 2000/01



    RAThis shows tha t HB and CTB expe nd iture ha s

    dec rea sed by 2.3% ove r the last yea r, a fa ll of

    1.5 million. The largest d ec rea se ha s bee n in RA

    expe nd iture, w hic h ha s fallen by 3.5%, a fa ll of

    1.1 million.



    The d ec rea se in expend iture is linked to a

    red uc tion in Plymouth s HB and CTB caseloa d

    which ha s fa llen sha rp ly over the last year, as

    illustrated in Figure 2.2.Sourc e: Plymouth

    Note: 2000/01 figures not audited Plymouth attributes this fall in caseload to:

    an inc rea se in loc a l em ploym ent. For

    examp le 3 telephone c aller centres have

    op ened over the last year, c rea ting new jobsFig. 2.2: HB and CTB caselo ad

    increa sed ta ke-up of WFTC w hich ha s ra ised

    inco me s, resulting in som e c laima nts losing

    ent itlement to HB and CTB









    1998/99 1999/2000 2000/01

    a fa ll in c la ims follow ing the introd uc tion of

    more stringent evidence requirements

    introduced during 1999/2000 in prep ara tion

    for the introd uc tion of VFRA


    CTB only a rise in backlog s.

    Plymo uth introd uc ed a DIP system in

    Bene fits in Novemb er 2000 and expe rienc ed a

    fall in p rod uc tivity and a rise in ba c klog , ca used


    increased co mp uter downtime

    Sourc e: Plymouth sta ff lea rning to use the new DIP system.

    Plymouth s caseloa d fell by 1,062 be twe en

    Novem ber 2000 and Ma rch 2001. Plymouth e stimated 10,679cases

    we re unp rocessed in the b ac klog in March 2001. We d iscuss this in more

    deta il in Getting it righ t.

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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 29







    Organisa tion of the benefits servic ePlymo uth s benefit service is part o f the Revenues Division o f the

    counc il s Financ e Department, responsible fo r Co unc il Tax (CT) as we ll

    as HB and CTB administration . The service is c entralised , loc a ted in

    Plymouths Civic Centre.

    The servic e ha s und ergone c onsiderab le o rganisa tiona l and

    proc ed ura l cha nge o ver the last 3 yea rs. These inc lude:

    an o rganisa tiona l rev iew in 1998/99 resulting in a restructuring in


    the introduc tion o f DIP in Nove mb er 2000

    the imp lementa tion of VF in Ma rc h 2001.

    At the t ime of o ur on-site wo rk, Plymouth w as imp lem enting

    sub sta ntia l bud get cuts of 20 million. The benefits service wa s not

    targete d for budge t c uts, but trad e unions were taking industrial a ct ionat the time o f our inspec tion, inc lud ing som e one -da y strikes.

    The Reve nues Division undertoo k a ma jor review of its service s to

    imp rove the service a nd p rep are it for future c hanges, inc lud ing Best

    Value (BV) and VF. The review a imed to imp rove the service to:

    pe rform c omp etitively, effic iently and effec tively

    provide qua lity customer care services tha t a re a cc essib le a nd


    Befo re the review, the service w as orga nised into func tiona l tea ms

    dea ling with b ene fits and reve nues. Follow ing the review, the servic e re-structured during 1999/ 2000 to form the fo llow ing 2 units:

    Custome r Services dea ling with a ll frontlineenquiries, inc luding

    pub lic c ontac t throug h visits, telep hone a nd p ersona l ca llers and

    the c ash office team

    Ac c ount Proc essing dea ling with ba ck offic eprocessing of

    c ustome rs CT, Na tiona l Non-Dome stic Rates (NNDR) ac counts and

    bene fit c la ims. The incom es tea m is a lso loc a ted here.

    In addition, a servic e d evelopment t ea m p rovides supp ort to both

    units with training, p roc ed ural g uidanc e, p ublic ity a nd c o-ordination ofa comp laints line . Figure 2.3 shows the o rganisa tiona l structure.

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    pa ge 30 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il

    Fig. 2.3: Revenues Division organisation structure



    x 3



    Senior CS Officers

    x 2

    CS Team Leader

    Fraud and Visits

    CS Team Leader (VF)

    CS staff

    x 34

    Senior CS Officers

    x 2

    CS Team Leader

    Counter + Phones

    Customer Services Manager



    x 1

    Training Officers

    x 3

    Service Development Co-0rdinator


    Staffx 12

    Senior Officers

    x 2

    Support Services

    Team Leader


    Staffx 28

    Senior Officers

    x 5

    Accounts Processing

    Team Leader

    RR/CTB +

    Verification Team

    Accounts Processing

    Team Leader Fraud

    Action Plan


    Staffx 12

    Senior Officer

    x 1

    Accounts Processing

    Team Leader



    staffx 26

    Senior Officer

    x 4

    Accounts Processing

    Team Leader


    Account Processing Manager

    Asst Head of Finance

    Source : Plymouth







    Custome r Service s sta ff dea l with both b enefits and CT wo rk.

    Ac c ounts Proc essing sta ff a re ma inly organised into func tiona l

    tea ms dea ling with the follow ing aspec ts of HB and CTB administra tion:

    claims verification

    RR/ CTB assessment

    RA assessment.

    Sep ara te tea ms wo rk on a ll aspec ts of CT and NNDR administration

    from b illing to c ollec tion.

    The following teams dea l with b oth HB/ CTB and CT:

    sc anning and inde xing

    support servic es (IT sup port, sub sidy, deb t c ollec tion).

    The restructure wa s a ma jor cha nge fo r ma ny sta ff, in tha t they

    we re required to w ork on ne w a nd , in ma ny cases wide r a rea s of work.

    Of the existing sta ff, 40% we re interview ed for posts in the new structure

    which is an indica tion o f the e xtent to which sta ff had to lea rn new

    areas of w ork. Interviews took plac e be tween O c tob er 1999 and Ap ril

    2000. The servic e d eve lop ment tea m p rovide d a wide -rang ing t ra ining

    prog ramm e fo r sta ff working in new area s.

    Afte r the restruc ture, the Revenues Division introd uc ed a DIP

    system, sup p lied by Co mino. The DIP system w ent live in CT from

    Oc tob er 2000 and wa s rolled out to Bene fits from Novemb er 2000.

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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 31





    Plymouth w as imp lem enting VF a t the time o f our on-site

    inspec tion. It imp lemented VF from 26 Ma rch 2001, the last w eek of our

    on-site inspec tion.

    Implementation of VF was originally scheduled for early 2000, but

    wa s defe rred bec ause o f IT c onstra ints, cha nges to the sc hem e a nd

    sta ffing prob lem s. Plymouth c onsidered it nee ded to imp lem ent DIP andgive sta ff time to be com e p rofic ient a nd confide nt on this system be fore

    imp leme nting VF fully.

    We tested Plymouth s imp lem enta tion of VF on c la ims tha t we re

    due to be p a id from 26 March 2001, and assessed the a uthority s

    p lanning for these m ajor cha ng es during our inspec tion. This is c overed

    in Getting it rightand Ma king sure the strateg y wo rks.

    Orga nisa tion of counter fraud sta ffThe visiting team, p a rt o f the custome r services unit, carries out

    Plymouths counter fraud operations. Figure 2.4 shows the organisationalstructure of the visiting team.

    Fig. 2.4: Plym outh visiting team

    3 customer service assistants

    6 visiting officers

    Senior customer service officer

    VF visiting officer

    5.5 visiting officers

    Senior customer service officer

    Customer service team leader

    Customer service manager

    Source : Plymouth


    VOs perform a wide range o f gene ra l visiting func tions for the

    d ivision. Fraud visits and investiga tions a re c ond uc ted a long with o ther

    visiting requirements, such as:

    welfare need s

    property inspec tions for CT purposes

    new c laim verific ation

    visits to p remises c lassified fo r NNDR

    ba iliff du ties. Plymouth d ec ided to outsource ba iliff wo rk from Ap ril


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    pa ge 32 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il






    Plymouth ha s rec eived fund ing from c entral government fo r 1.5

    visiting p osts as part o f VF c om plianc e. These sta ff have bee n rec ruited ,

    but ha ve still to b e t ra ined on VF duties. At the time o f our on-site wo rk,

    Plymouth ha d sec ond ed to its visiting tea m a memb er of the VF

    impleme nta tion tea m, who is to initially p ilo t a ll VF visiting duties. VF

    tra ining w ill be rolled out to other sta ff onc e the results of the p ilot have

    be en e valuated . The review will form p art of a wider review of c ustom er

    servic es due in June 2001.

    We found tha t, althoug h the structure sta tes a ll sta ff should c arry

    out b ene fits fraud w ork and sta ff had und ergone a n intensive training

    prog ramm e from Janua ry to Feb rua ry 2001 to fac ilita te this, in p rac tice

    most b enefit fraud work was ca rried out b y staff w ho ha d previous

    expe rienc e in this a rea . Plymouth to ld us tha t it alloc a ted fraud cases on

    ab ility w ith new er sta ff wo rking with more e xperienc ed investiga tors. We

    com ment on th is in Putting it right.

    Due to the relative infanc y of the fraud sec tion, the inexperienc eof fraud sta ff and prob lem s with the c urrent system supporting the new

    inc entive schem e, Plymouth ha s op ted to rem ain w ith the existing WBS

    scheme for 2001/02.

    Plymouth ha s only limited da ta on the numb er of investiga tions

    undertaken or the ir outc om es so is unab le to a pp ly any in-depth

    assessme nt o f risk to HB or CTB. There ha s bee n no a tte mp t m ade to

    estimate the stoc k of fraud within the Plymo uth a rea .

    In p repa rat ion for BFI's visit, Plymouth ha d

    rev iewe d prev ious BFI rep orts and Goo d Prac tice

    Guideto identify areas of b enefit work need ing to

    be upd a ted . We c ove r this in more d eta il in

    Putting it right.

    In p reparation for BFI's visit,

    Plymouth had reviewed previous

    BFI reports and Good Prac tic e

    Guideto identify areas of benefit

    work needing to be updated.

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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 33









    Getting it rightGetting it righ tmea ns be nefit p aym ents should be c orrec t from the

    sta rt. This me ans tha t:

    there m ust b e a sec ure g a tew ay to the b enefit system

    c laimants should no t ha ve to dea l with unnec essa ry red tape

    the o rganisa tion provides a m od ern, integrated , high qua lity service.

    Benefit servic e a c c essib ility and awarenessSec tion 123(3)(a) o f the Soc ial Sec urity Co ntributions and Benefits

    Ac t 1992 (SSCBA 1992) sta tes tha t every authority g ranting HB:

    sha ll ta ke suc h step s as appea r to them approp ria te fo r the

    purpose o f sec uring t ha t p ersons who ma y be entitled to housing

    be nefit from the a uthority bec ome aw are that they may be

    ent itled to it..Req uirem ents in respec t o f CTB are in sec tion 123(4)(a) of the same


    LAs c an p romo te the leg itima te ta ke-up o f benefit b y, for examp le:

    advertising t he HB and CTB sc hem e th roug h the loc a l me d ia and

    throug hout c ounc il offices

    wo rking with o the r organisa tions, suc h as BA, we lfare groups and


    inc lud ing informa tion whe n c orrespond ing with a ll LA c ustom ers.

    We found tha t the bene fits servic e m ee ts reg ula rly with we lfa re

    groups and land lords to p rom ote the ta ke-up of b enefit. Plymouth

    atte nd s me et ings of the Plymo uth Welfa re Rights Forum e very 2 mo nths.

    This is cha ired by the Welfa re Rights Sup port Unit (WRSU) b ased in the

    Citizens Ad vice Bureau (CAB).

    This forum ha s a wide range of pa rticipants includ ing C AB, BA, ES,

    Housing Assoc iat ions (HAs), as well as vo lunta ry groups add ressing

    spec ific groups suc h as rough sleep ers and lone p arents. In a ll the re a re

    over 20 participating members.

    The bene fits servic e has not orga nised any rec ent take-up

    camp a igns itself. How ever, it ha s worked in pa rtne rship w ith the WRSU

    and othe r age nc ies in

    take-up work, including a successful over-60s campaign in 1999/2000

    which sec ured 650,000 ad d itiona l benefit payments for pe nsione rs.

    It is imp ortant tha t, having enc ourag ed take-up, the LA provide s a

    modern accessib le and responsive servic e. Plymouth told us tha t:

    70% of c a llers c onta c t the servic e b y ca lling into its pub lic rec ep tion

    30% of c a llers c ontac t the service b y telephone.

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    pa ge 34 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il

    2.42 Figure 2.5 gives deta ils of ca ller and phone tra ffic ove r the last


    Fig. 2.5: Weekly customer servic e c onta c ts Ap ril 2000 Feb ruary 2001

    Averag e Lowest Highe st

    Callers at rec eption (to 29 Octob er

    2000 only)

    1,005 608 1,321

    Interviews 318 99* 388

    Telephone c allers (to 29 Oc tober

    2000 only)

    441 328 580

    Source : Plymouth

    Note: * Christmas week




    The p ublic rec ep tion p oint dea ls with bo th be nefit a nd C T

    enquiries, with enquiries on benefits comprising the overwhelming

    ma jority, an e stimated 75% of c a llers. The p ub lic rec ep tion and bene fits

    proc essing o ffic es are loc a ted a t the C ivic Centre, which is next to the

    ma in shopp ing c entre in the c ity. This a ffords ea sy ac cess for Plymouth's

    custom ers. In a dd ition, 10 Neighbourhood Housing Offices loc a ted

    throug hout the a rea provide ge neral ad vice on b enefits.

    During 2000/01, Plymouth set the following targets for dealing with

    persona l ca llers a t the Civic Centre:

    98% of c ustome rs to be see n within 10 minute s of joining rec ep tion

    queue78% of c ustom ers wa iting for an interview in a p riva te c ub ic le to b e

    see n w ithin 30 minutes.

    Figure 2.6 show s how Plymouth found it ha d performed aga inst its

    stated targets for 2000/01.

    Fig. 2.6: Custome r service pe rformance indicators 2000/01


    % customers seen within 10

    minutes of joining rec ep tion

    queue(Targe t 98)

    % of custome rsinterviewed within 30

    minutes(Targe t 78)

    April Not me asured 81

    Ma y 91 76

    June 74 70

    July 72 66

    August 66 47

    September Not me asured 48

    October Not me asured 50

    November 78 46

    December Not me asured 66

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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 35


    (2000/01)% customers seen within 10

    minutes of joining rec ep tion


    (Targe t 98)

    % of custome rs

    interviewed within 30

    minutes(Targe t 78)

    January 20 41

    February Not me asured 33

    March Not me asured 36

    Source : Plymouth







    This show s a poo r and dete riorating performa nc e aga inst its ow n

    ta rgets ove r the last yea r. Plymouth only ac hieve d its ta rget fo r one of

    these m ea sures in Ap ril 2000. Since the n it has fa iled ea c h mo nth to

    ac hieve either target. Performanc e ha s deteriorated to a low level by


    Our own o bservations during the o n-site inspec tion confirmed tha tthe p ublic had leng thy waiting times a t the rec ep tion c ounter. We w ere

    told tha t the num ber of ca llers had inc rea sed bec ause o f the rise in

    bene fits backlog and the d ispatc h of a nnua l CT b ills. We m onitored

    wa iting times and found c ustom ers had to w ait on a verage 35 minutes

    to be seen b y rec ep tion.

    From Sep tem ber 2000, Plymo uth dec ided to reduc e m onitoring the

    numb er of ca llers see n within 10 minutes to one day every othe r mo nth,

    as it co nsidered the mo nitoring resource intensive. As a result, any

    ma nage ment informat ion derived from this measure is insuffic ient to

    allow comprehensive monitoring of actual performance. Plymouth alsostop pe d c ounting the numb er of pe rsona l and telepho ne c a llers from

    Sep tem ber 2000. To imp rove its und ersta nd ing and informa tion of

    pe rsona l ca llers Plymouth plans to imp leme nt a Q ueue Ma nag eme nt

    System by June 2001.

    Plymouth ha s rec og nised its fa ilure to m ee t its ta rgets and in

    response ha s lowered its ta rgets for the fo llowing yea r. The prop osed

    ta rgets for 2001/02 are:

    75% of c ustome rs to be see n w ithin 10 minutes of joining the

    rec ep tion q ueue

    65% of c ustom ers wa iting for an interview in a p riva te c ub ic le to b e

    seen within 30 minutes.

    Whilst we a cknow ledge th is ma kes its ta rgets mo re rea listic a nd

    hop efully, ac hievab le, it is d isappointing tha t Plymouth ha s respond ed

    to failure by lowe ring ta rge ts, ra ther than imp roving its service.

    Plymouth has a complement of 34 front line staff (25 full-time

    eq uivalent) emp loyed on custome r service d uties. This dem onstrates its

    com mitment to c ustom er servic e. All sta ff dut ies a re rota ted throug h a ll

    aspec ts of c ustom er service to ensure they a re a b le to dea l with the full

    range of enq uiries.

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    pa ge 36 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il






    Plymouth ha s not set a performa nc e mea sure fo r dea ling w ith

    telep hone c a llers. All c a lls from c la ima nts a re routed through to the

    customer services sec tion to a llow ac counts p roc essors to dete rmine

    c laims without interrup tion. Sta ff to ld us tha t c a llers often b ypass this

    route to spea k direc t to p rocessing sta ff. This is mo re likely to ha ppen

    when there a re proc essing ba cklog s and when the p hone lines a re


    During 2000, Plymouth dec ided to introd uc e c a ll cent re

    tec hnolog y to imp rove its c ustom er servic e a nd o b ta in reliab le

    ma nage ment informa tion. The system w ent live fo r CT in Dec em ber

    2000. Plymouth to ld us tha t it intend ed to introd uc e it to the b ene fits

    service by the end of April 2001 to a llow sta ff to fa milia rise themselves

    with the new te chno log y and lea rn any lessons.

    We c onc lude tha t the custom er servic e te am is we ll sta ffed, b ut

    do es have to d ea l with large vo lumes of c a ller and pho ne tra ffic , as

    shown in Figure 2.5. Unsurprisingly, the vo lume of c a llers to the office andby pho ne is d irec tly linked to the a mount of wo rk outstand ing.

    We were c onc erned that Plymouth is failing to collec t impo rtant

    ma nage ment informa tion on the rea sons for ca lls and response t imes.

    We consider that w ithout this informa tion Plymo uth c annot m ake

    informed de c isions abo ut how it c an provide the c ustom er servic e that

    it a sp ires to and see k alternatives whe re the c urrent p rac tices are no t


    Early identification of this as an issue, through the collection and

    ana lysis of d ata , co uld have given Plymouth ea rly wa rning of prob lems

    with delays, and the o pp ortunity to rectify them be fore they

    de teriorated to form a ba c klog.

    We rec ommend that Plymouth ensures that it regularly gathers

    sufficient manag em ent informa tion on:

    the typ e o f ca llers (HB or CT)

    the length of time taken o n rec ep tion

    waiting times for reception a nd p rivate interviews

    the reason for the c all to the office and by phone.

    These m easures should b e introduced imme dia tely, before the

    que ue m ana ge ment system if necessary, and used to a ssess the

    effec tiveness of the service as well as help improve customer


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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 37

    Claim form2.57







    Reg ulation 72(1) of the HB Reg ulations sta tes tha t:

    Every claim sha ll be in writing a nd ma de o n a p rop erly

    c omp leted c laim form

    There is an ide ntic a l prov ision fo r CTB in reg ulation 62(1) of the

    Co unc il Tax Benefit (Ge neral) Regulations 1992 (CTB Regulations).

    A g oo d c la im fo rm p lays a vita l pa rt in ensuring administra tive

    efficienc y, sec uring g a tew ays into the b ene fit system and providing a

    better qua lity service to c la ima nts.

    Plymouth introd uced a new c laim form from 29 Janua ry 2001. This

    wa s a ma jor imp rove ment o n its p revious c la im forms. How eve r,

    bec ause the fo rm w as so rec ent, very few cases had bee n a ssessed

    using the new form. All of the c ases we samp led random ly were

    assessed on the previous c la im fo rms and this cont ributed to poo rverifica tion standa rds in most o f the c ases we samp led. In co ntrast the

    15 cases tha t Plymo uth a sked us to exam ine to test its c om plianc e w ith

    VF used the new form. We found a muc h highe r standa rd of c om pletion

    and evidenc e p rovided in these c ases com pa red to the p revious c la im


    We c om pa red Plymouth s new c la im fo rm a ga inst the at tribute s of

    a goo d c laim fo rm, as spec ified in BFI'sGoo d Prac tice Guide, VF and

    the mo del c laim form tha t was issued to a ll LAs during our on-site


    We found the new form a ma jor

    imp rove me nt on the fo rms it rep lac ed . In

    particular it:

    is we ll set out a nd sign-posted

    g ives c lear, comp rehe nsive d eta ils of the

    evidenc e required

    not ifies the c la ima nt of the requirem ent to

    rep ort cha nge s.

    We found the new form a

    ma jor improvement on the

    forms it rep lac ed .

    We ident ified seve ra l area s in the new c la im fo rm tha t requirerevision. Full deta ils a re a t Append ix B. These includ e:






    the q uestion relating to t he c om mon trave l a rea should b e update d

    as the current phrasing does not meet the leg a l req uirem ents

    ea c h upd a te o f the form should be read ily ide ntifiab le.

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    pa ge 38 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il



    Plymouth told us that the new form ha d be en p rinted on the w rong

    thickness of p aper, which c aused d ifficulties for sc anning a nd inc urred

    ad ditiona l postage costs. It told us that it p lanned to ma ke an ea rly

    rep rint of the form and wo uld incorporate the c hang es we identified .

    Plymouth were a iming to com plete a full rep rint, with all releva nt

    amendme nts, in Sep tem ber 2001.

    We supp ort the introd uc tion o f the new form a nd we sugg est tha t

    with the a mend ments, the c la im fo rm w ill p lay a n important pa rt in the

    suc cessful imp leme nta tion o f VF for Plymo uth.

    We recomm end tha t Plymouth:

    revises its c laim fo rm to ensure it is consistent with BFIs Good

    Prac tice Guideand the mo del c laim form







    Befo re it introd uc ed the new c la im fo rm Plymouth was using 6d ifferent forms dep end ing o n the type o f claim. These include d

    sep ara te forms for RR, RA a nd CTB and shortened renew al forms for

    c la ima nts rec eiving Inc om e Support (IS) o r co ntribution-ba sed

    Job see ker s Allow anc e (JSA(cont )). We found these forms we re poo rly

    de signe d and c ontribute d to its po or performa nc e in the verific ation of

    new and rep ea t c la ims samp led. The weaknesses of the 6 forms


    verifica tion wa s not req uested

    the shortened renewa l form wa s ta ilored to know n c ircumsta nc es,

    reducing the likelihood of claimants reporting other circumstances

    there was no space o r req uirem ent fo r the Na tiona l Insuranc e

    numb er (NINO)

    the re w as no sign-posting

    there w as not enough spa c e for earned income to be filled in

    the wrong form co uld b e used .

    The BFI's Goo d Prac tic e G uiderec om me nds tha t an LA shou ld use

    one c om bined HB and CTB c laim form. We supp ort the w ork do ne b y

    Plymouth to withdraw these forms from use.

    Verification workReg ulation 73(1) of the HB Reg ulations req uires tha t:

    a p erson w ho ma kes a c laim sha ll furnish suc h c ertifica tes,

    doc uments, informa tion a nd evid enc e in c onnec tion with the

    c laimas ma y be rea sona bly req uired by the app rop riate

    authority in order to d ete rmine tha t person s ent itlement

    There is an identica l provision in regulat ion 63(1) of the CTB


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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 39






    The Dep artment ha s a lso develop ed VF. This sets out the m inimum

    sta nd ard of ve rifica tion tha t LAs should a pp ly when p roc essing HB/ CTB

    c la ims and has been de signe d to he lp p revent fraud and error entering

    the system a t the c la im sta ge .

    We conc lude tha t the o verall standa rds of verifica tion in Plymouth

    we re p oo r. We found errors in both o ur new and rene wa l c la im samp les,but the stand ard o n renew a l cla ims wa s worse tha n tha t on new c laims.

    We co nsider that the re a re a numb er of significant fac tors tha t

    have affec ted the stand a rds a ttained by Plymouth. These include:

    po orly d esigne d c laim fo rms

    inad eq uate recording of a ction taken

    temporary easements introduced to speed claim processing

    inadeq uate ma nagement c hecking.

    Plymouth rea lised tha t it had to imp rove its standa rd of ve rifica tionto b e fully VF c om pliant from 26 Ma rc h 2001. To Plymo uth s c red it,

    befo re we visited it ha d ta ken a c tion to address a ll these issues.

    Whilst on site, we too k the opportunity to test a further 15 new and

    rene wa l c la ims tha t Plymouth c onsidered to b e fully VF c om pliant.

    Plymo uth wa s keen fo r us to advise o n these cases befo re it assessed

    them , to chec k its standard of verific a tion. Although verific a tion wa s of

    a m uc h higher sta nda rd than the o ther samp led c ases we still found

    some areas in need of improvement, including:





    In the follow ing p aragrap hs we loo k in de ta il a t how Plymouth

    verifies c la ims and the e xtent to w hich lega l req uirem ents and minimum

    verific a tion standa rds are m et. We considered :

    VF imp lem enta tion

    the g eneral arrang em ents for ga thering a nd c hec king informa tion

    and evidenc e nec essary to p roc ess c la ims

    how pa rticular elem ents we re verified befo re VF wa s imp lem ente d

    verifica tion o f cases und er VF.

    Verific a tion framew orkPlymouth to ok the dec ision in 1999 to imp leme nt VF. The o riginal

    imp lementa tion d a te o f Janua ry 2000 was postp one d a s IT support wa s

    conc entra ted on Year 2000 work. A revised date of Ma y 2000 wa s

    chosen to avoid yea r-end a c tivity, but this wa s not a c hieved bec ause

    of absenc e through sic kness of the VF imp lem enta tion projec t ma nager.

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    pa ge 40 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il







    The p rojec t wa s re-app ra ised in July 2000. Following advice from

    other VF c om pliant LAs tha t a DIP system w as nec essa ry to c ontrol and

    ma nag e the extra pa pe rwork, a revised imp lementa tion d ate be tween

    Janua ry and Ma rc h 2001 wa s dec ided . This flexib le period wa s c hosen

    to a llow DIP to bed in. The DIP system w ent live in Novemb er 2000 and

    Plymouth imp lem ente d VF during our last w eek of the on-site inspec tion,

    from 26 Ma rch 2001.

    The DIP system conta ins softwa re tha t req uires Plymouth to rec ord

    the evidenc e tha t has be en p rovided to verify the d ifferent a spe c ts of

    the c la im. This p rovide s a go od c hec klist for the sta ff and evide nc e fo r

    ma nag ers when c om pleting ma nag em ent c hec ks. In our sam ples from

    be fore the introd uct ion o f VF, we found little e videnc e o f rec ording

    verification a c tion, excep t in som e ne w c la ims when a stand a rd

    checklist was used in verifying the NINO and identity.

    Collec ting and rec ord ing informa tion a ndevidence

    The VF spec ifies how information a nd evide nc e should be

    rec orded . In p articular it sta tes tha t:

    whe re p ossib le orig ina l docume nts should be seen

    sta ff responsible fo r sc rutinising a nd ta king deta ils from suc h

    doc uments should ha ve rece ived app rop riate training

    all evide nce co llec ted and che cks ma de must be clearly and

    ac c urately rec orde d.

    An LA tha t fa iled to follow these b asic req uirem ents will have noaud it trail ava ilab le to show tha t a ll nec essary steps in the verific a tion

    proc ess have be en c arried out.

    We found from observations and discussions

    with sta ff tha t Plymo uth sc rutinised orig inal

    doc uments tho roughly. The sta ff responsible for

    c hecking a nd c op ying d oc uments have rec eived

    deta iled tra ining from the Immigration Servic e on

    identifying fraudulent d oc ume nts. They refer to

    c hec klists and have conta c ted the Imm igration

    Service for ad vic e on suspec t do c uments. Plymouth had p urchasedultraviolet (UV) sc anners and illuminat ing ma gnifying g lasses, and sta ff

    use them to chec k original doc uments.

    All the d oc ume nts we exam ined in our samp ling w ere

    photo co pied, signed and stamp ed orig ina ls seen, other than o ne c ase

    in which p hotoc op ies we re sent in by the HD.

    Plymouth sc rutinised origina l

    doc uments thoroughly.

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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 41


    Ga thering evidenc eTo he lp us com me nt on Plymouth s performa nc e in respec t of

    p roc essing c la ims, we samp led 67 new and 67 rene wa l claims. A

    brea kdo wn of the sta tus of the se c laims is shown in Figure 2.7.

    Fig. 2.7: Breakd own o f sam pled c laims

    Type of c laim Awa iting


    t de termined

    Entitled Not entitled Tota l

    New RA 6 21 1 28

    New RR 4 14 0 18

    New CTB only 13 7 1 21

    Renewal RA 0 23 0 23

    Renewal RR 0 26 0 26

    Renewa l CTB only 0 18 0 18

    Total 23 109 2 134

    Source: BFI analysis




    The entire renewa l samp le ha d be en d etermined and b enefit

    renew ed . We ha ve c onc erns abo ut the lac k of sc rutiny and verification

    app lied to the se c la ims as deta iled la ter in the repo rt.

    Verific a tion on new c la ims wa s gene ra lly of a highe r standa rd .

    Plymouth ha d not dete rmined 23 (34%) of the new c laims. These we re

    cases where the c laimant had not respo nded to reque sts for evidenc e.

    All these c ases we re log ged on the Housing Benefit Info rma tion System

    (HBIS), but ma ny ap pea red to b e inac tive a s there w as no c urrent

    ac tion. The a ge of these c ases rang ed from being 2 months to 7 mo nths

    old a t the time of our on-site inspec tion.

    These c ases should b e fo rma lly c losed as the y are ta king up

    unne c essa ry space on the HBIS and DIP systems and ma y p ose a risk of

    internal fraud wh ile they are still op en. Plymo uth s lette rs sta te tha t theLA w ill assume c laima nts no longer wish to pursue the ir c laim if they d o

    not rep ly to req uests within 4 weeks. This a llows the LA to trea t the c laim

    as c losed . How eve r, Plymouth had not c losed these c ases on the HBIS


    We rec om mend that Plymouth ensures that c ases where the

    claimant has not replied to requests for further information are

    c losed down and the c laimant notified ap propriately.

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    pa ge 42 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il




    The p eriod of o ur samp ling of c ases pa rtly coinc ided with the use

    of tem pora ry easeme nts in the standa rd o f evide nce g a thering b y

    Plymouth. The e asem ents we re introd uc ed from 4 Oc tob er to 4

    Dec em ber 2000 to a ssist it in clea ring bac klog s of wo rk in p rep ara tion for

    the introd uc tion o f the DIP system.

    Written instructions on ea sem ents were issued to sta ff includ ing thefollowing:

    relaxed som e o f the p roo fs/ evide nc e w e no rma lly req uirein

    some circumstances working without files.

    Figure 2.8 shows some examples from the extensive list of the

    ea seme nts that we re introd uced from Oc tob er 2000.














































    2.90 Figure 2.8 illustrate s tha t the ea sem ents we re m ainly foc used on

    rene wa l c la ims. This wo uld explain the poo r standards of verifica tion

    seen in our rene wa l samp le.

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    BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il pa ge 43

    2.91 We a re c onc erned tha t in bo th new and renew a l c laims sta ff were

    not fo llow ing the instruc tions tha t we re a va ilab le to return to the more

    stringent, norma l p roc ed ures from 4 Dec em ber. For exam ple, of the 14

    cases from our rene wa l samp le returned to Plymouth where we

    considered the re wa s an e rror, 9 ca ses (64%) were a ssessed a fte r 4








    2.93 Figure 2.9 shows an overall summary of the verification obtained

    on new and renew al cases in our samp le tha t we re entitled to b enefit.

    Som e o f the c laims in our new samp le still had outstand ing ac tion or

    were a wa iting evide nc e from the c la ima nt or BA. Our samp ling a na lysistakes acc ount of this and only inc ludes c la ims tha t ha ve b ee n a ssessed

    and pa id.

    Fig . 2.9:



















    XX X XX











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    pa ge 44 BFI inspec tion: Plymouth City Co unc il


    Figure 2.9 shows that Plymouth:

    verified IS and inco me -ba sed Jobsee ker's Allow anc e (JSA(IB))

    entitlem ent a nd rent liab ility in a ll new c laims



    Verifying NINOs and identity2.95