The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, has qualified the Social Fund White Paper Account for the eighth consecutive year. The account has been qualified because of material levels of error in discretionary awards, which include Budgeting Loans, Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants, and in Funeral Expense Payments. He has also qualified his opinion on Cold Weather Payments, for the first time, because of the level of error found in these payments.
The C&AG has for the second consecutive year, also limited the scope of his opinion on the level of debt within the account, owing to the absence of sufficient appropriate evidence to support the breakdown of the customer debt balance.
The NAO estimates that the most likely level of error in discretionary awards, Funeral Expense Payments and Cold Weather Payments in 2010-11 is £98.3 million, approximately 2.4 per cent of total payments. The estimated level of error in Cold Weather Payments during 2010-11 totalled £21.5 million, some 5 per cent of payments (no error was found in 2009-10). The C&AG has, however, removed his qualification of Sure Start Maternity Grants, as the NAO found no errors in 2010-11 payments.
The NAO’s work shows that the main causes of ‘irregularity’ are Jobcentre Plus’s inability to provide the documentation needed to support cases selected for audit and a failure to comply with regulations when making awards. Jobcentre Plus believes that the continued high instance of error is due to the ongoing reorganisation of its process centre network, and that the inability to locate all documentation results from the large amounts of paperwork that have been moved between JCP offices during the year.
In an attempt to resolve the issues that the C&AG reported on in 2009-10, Jobcentre Plus set up the Social Fund Task Force. However, while Jobcentre Plus has made progress in a number of areas, the sheer number of records and the complexities of the computer systems involved have meant that work on some areas has not progressed as quickly as Jobcentre Plus had hoped. The Task Force’s plans provide a solid foundation on which Jobcentre Plus should build in future to resolve the issues.