Accounts Commission urge council to "continue this positive momentum"
Aberdeenshire Council has made “significant improvements” in the service it offers for housing and council tax benefits.
The Accounts Commission called for an update on its earlier report from August last year which criticised councillors for lack of scrutiny and failing to ensure robust arrangements were in place to improve the service.
The update said scrutiny of performance has improved and there is faster and more efficient processing of cases.
The commission said the council now demonstrates awareness of areas where it could improve including intervention activity, reviewing how it receives feedback from customers and appeals performance. It also recognises that it needs to continue to plan for the impact of welfare reform.
Chairman of the Accounts Commission, John Baillie, said: “We recognise the progress made by the council against the risks and improvement actions identified and are particularly encouraged by the improvements to scrutiny of the service by councillors.
“We urge Aberdeenshire to continue this positive momentum to help further improve performance.”
The report found there has been significant improvement in the performance of the service with new claims being processed in 22 days (previously 42 days) and change of circumstances processed in six days (up from 14 days) and is now consistently higher than the Scottish average.
It also highlights that the council has taken a proactive approach to preparing for the effect of welfare reform, and is aware of the on-going need to identify improvements to performance and making best use of feedback from customers.
Leader of the Aberdeenshire Council, Jim Gifford, said: “I welcome this report and am pleased to see such positive improvements in this important service. There are major challenges ahead for this service, not least dealing with the changes to the welfare system, but I am confident that we are in a good position to respond positively.”
Head of Finance, Alan Wood, explained: “The report last year was very critical of the benefits service and we were keen to demonstrate that we had taken the issues seriously. The team has worked extremely hard to develop and deliver an action plan to address those concerns, and put the service back on track to being one of the best in the country.
“Of the 21 actions identified in the plan, 20 have been addressed, and we continue to work towards completing the final action, which is around identifying and responding to risk.”