Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, has today qualified his audit opinion on the 2011-12 Social Fund White Paper Account. These accounts record both discretionary awards (such as Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants) and regulated awards (such as Cold Weather Payments, Winter Fuel Payments and Sure Start Maternity Grants) made to customers.
The accounts have been qualified for the ninth year running because of the material levels of incorrect payments found in both discretionary and regulated awards and, for the third year, the C&AG has also limited the scope of his audit opinion on the Social Fund debt balance. This is because the Department for Work and Pensions has been unable to provide him with adequate assurance over the completeness and accuracy of the amount of debt disclosed in the accounts.
In 2011-12, the Social Fund made payments of some £3.1 billion. The NAO has estimated that £45.6 million of such payments were made in error. This represents 1.5 per cent of total payments made (2010-11: £114.3 million, 2.7 per cent of total payments).
Out of the £45.6 million, an estimated £15.3 million (2010-11: £55.45 million) of error resulted from missing or incomplete documentation or information. This represents a significant reduction from 2010-11, which the Department believes is primarily due to the embedding of a project, begun in 2010-11, to scan electronically all key Social Fund documents with the aim of improving the tracking, storing and management of documentation. Today’s report notes, however, that there were still instances where the Department was unable to provide the NAO with adequate supporting documentation.
The Department has made progress in addressing the C&AG’s on-going concerns over the regularity of Social Fund payments and is looking at further improvements in order to continue to drive down the level of error.
Work on the debt issues is still ongoing and progress has not been as rapid as expected. The Department is therefore producing an action plan for resolving the debt differences over the next year.