The benefits service provided by Thurrock Council is ‘fair’ and has ‘promising’ prospects for improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.
On a scale from zero to three stars the Audit Commission inspection team gave the service a ‘fair’ one-star rating. New claims and changes in circumstances are now being processed more quickly and the service is easily accessible for most people. But customers are still having to wait too long for appeals to be heard.
Ian Davidson, Audit Commission senior manager, said:
The benefits service at Thurrock Council has improved over the last year. People making new claims or reporting changes of circumstances are now dealt with more promptly, facilities for customers accessing the service are good and there is a strong emphasis on customer care.
But customers are still waiting too long for a decision if they question something or make an appeal. The Council needs to put this right, and do more to prevent and detect fraud. To its credit, the Council is committed to delivering an efficient benefits service and plans are in place to achieve this.’
New claims and changes in circumstances are processed quickly.
Customers are able to easily access the service at various locations across the area, with two of them open on Saturday mornings.
Most customers visiting the offices or telephoning do not have long waits.
Extra money available to help vulnerable people is being used effectively.
Delays in dealing with customers’ appeals.
The service is not doing enough to recover overpaid benefit.
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations. These include:
Doing more to understand the needs of residents and meeting these needs more effectively.
Working with partner organisations to make sure people receive the benefits they are entitled to.
Tackling benefit fraud more effectively.
Improving value for money.