Housing benefits process under scrutiny

Councils are to be made more accountable to the public as the Department for Work and Pensions publishes, for the first time, figures for how quickly they process housing benefit and council tax benefit.

Malcolm Wicks, housing benefit minister, says: “Publishing these statistics is part of our strategy for reforming housing benefit. It is right and proper that the public see how well or how badly their council is doing.

“It is unacceptable that the worst performing councils take up to five times longer to process claims than the best performers. Council leaders and chief executives need to take responsibility where there are serious performance failures and act to improve delivery. We are working with councils to improve efficiency.”

Statistics published this week show that nationally the time taken to process new claims has improved by around four days to an average of eight weeks. But they also highlight widespread variations across individual councils.

Over 100 councils are processing new claims for housing benefit within 34 calendar days on average, while the worst performing councils were taking up to 162 days.

Changes of circumstances were being handled in around three days in some councils, but in excess of 100 days in others .

The target of 14 days for issuing decisions on claims in which all the necessary information has been supplied was being met in 100% of cases in some councils but in only 20% of cases in others.