‘Pretty damning’ report on housing benefits errors

Parkside Chart Way Horsham - Horsham District Council and West Sussex County Council SUS-150723-162029001
Parkside Chart Way Horsham - Horsham District Council and West Sussex County Council SUS-150723-162029001

A report detailing housing benefits errors that could cost Horsham District Council almost £250,000 has been labelled ‘pretty damning’ by councillors.

CenSus revenues and benefits partnership is operated by Mid Sussex District Council and alongside administering housing benefits is also responsible for collecting taxes, and overseeing council tax support schemes.

However Horsham District Council has decided to withdraw as it may receive a Government reduction of £249,000 in its housing benefit subsidy claim for 2015/16 after advice from external auditors about the level of errors in decisions made in individual cases.

John Chidlow (Con, Southwater) said: “It’s a pretty damning report, the whole thing. We have been very badly let down by our partner there.”

Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham), cabinet member for finance and assets, said: “The nub of the matter appears to be basic errors and perhaps management weaknesses over the past couple of years.”

He told fellow cabinet members on Thursday (January 26) that the partnership was having problems ‘obtaining quality staff’ as it was ‘not the most exciting work’.

The position was ‘not at all satisfactory’ for HDC and it was anticipating the possibility of further errors in 2016/17.

He continued: “We are not happy because the book is not clean.”

The council could either bring the service back in-house, outsource it to a major recognised supplier such as Capita, or find another partner either locally or further away.

Tom Crowley, chief executive at the council, explained that he had agreed with his opposite number at Mid Sussex to work collaboratively through the transition process to minimise disruption to customers.

The transition would take between a year and 18 months, allowing HDC time to identify future options for the service.

A report on future options are set to be presented to HDC’s Cabinet in late March.

Earlier this week, Jonathan Ash-Edwards, deputy leader and cabinet member for resources and economic growth at Mid Sussex District Council, said: “We are obviously disappointed that Horsham DC is deciding whether to withdraw from the partnership.

“Our joint work has been very successful over the years and has delivered significant savings for all the councils involved.

“It is very important to say that notwithstanding Horsham’s decision, Mid Sussex will continue to strive to deliver the best possible service for its residents.”

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