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Child Support Agency Client Funds Account 2002-2003

“I have had to qualify this account yet again because maintenance assessments are still subject to high levels of error. I therefore welcome the implementation earlier this year of the Agency’s reform programme with its new, simplified methodology for calculating maintenance assessments.

The Agency believes that this will result in more accurate assessments and provide other associated benefits. The new programme has been operating for only four months and it is too early for me to assess the success of the reforms. I intend to consider their impact in my audit of the 2003-04 account.”

16 Jul 2003

Department for Work and Pensions: Tackling Benefit Fraud

“The Department have a set of programmes that are designed to make fraud more difficult to commit, increase deterrence, increase the probability of frauds being detected and have increased the penalties for committing fraud. These programmes have produced some good results but more needs to be done to maintain progress. Amongst other actions the Department should continue to concentrate on areas of higher risk, address the decline in the fraud prevention and investigative activity, and evaluate the deterrent effect of the different sanctions available.”

13 Feb 2003

Department for Work and Pensions Resource Account 2001-02

“It is of the highest importance that money which Parliament has made available for welfare benefits is paid accurately only to those people who have proper entitlement and are in real need. Although the Department has taken significant steps to reduce the level of estimated fraud and error in recent years, the scale of losses remains substantial at £3 billion each year. The Department face a considerable challenge in reducing these losses further to an acceptable level.”

7 Feb 2003

Tackling pensioner poverty: Encouraging take-up of entitlements

“Many tens of thousands of pensioners who live in poverty each year miss out on benefits to which they are entitled but which they fail to claim. Taking up these entitlements can have a significant effect on the lives of these pensioners since much of the additional money is spent on a range of essential items such as nutritious food and clothing.

“The Department for Work and Pensions have made a start in addressing this situation, by making it easier to claim Minimum Income Guarantee and by establishing The Pension Service, but clearly more could be done. The Pension Service cannot tackle the problem of non-take up on its own. Others who provide services for pensioners such as local authorities and the voluntary sector also have an important role to play to encourage them to claim the money to which they are entitled.”

20 Nov 2002

Department of Social Security Resource Accounts 2000-2001

“Despite the success that the Department has had in exceeding the targets they have been set to reduce the estimated overpayment of Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance, large amounts of these benefits are still being lost through fraud and error.

“Income Support is the benefit of last resort for those most in need in society. This makes it essential for the Department to make accurate and prompt payments while also protecting the public purse. I welcome the strategies being adopted by the Department to strengthen its defences against loss of this benefit and address variations in performance in local offices.”

31 Jan 2002

The Medical Assessment of Incapacity and Disability Benefits

“This has been an innovative project for the Department of Social Security, involving the outsourcing of a service which is close to the department’s core business. The Benefits Agency medical service was underachieving and operated within tight resource constraints. Outsourcing has cut costs and speeded up the processing of the work, but the Department, with SEMA Group, must concentrate on improving the quality of assessments and customer service.

“Bottlenecks and delays throughout the system for paying these benefits also need to be addressed. The aim should be to ensure that disability benefits are speedily paid to those entitled to them, as well as reducing losses to the public purse from payments to those who are no longer eligible for benefit.”

9 Mar 2001

The Cancellation of the Benefits Payment Card project

“There may be a temptation to think that the Payment Card project failed solely because it was large and complex or because it was a pioneer PFI project. This was not the case. Various factors contributed to the project’s failure and their effects are difficult to disentangle. Important reasons were divided control, insufficient time for specifying the requirement and piloting, and that a shared, open approach to risk management was not achieved.”

Our examination found that:

The report highlights key lessons on risk management, the procurement of complex IT systems, and procurement by more than one purchaser, including:

In March 2000 the Treasury PFI taskforce issued new guidance on PFI contracts for Information Technology. In May 2000 the Cabinet Office published recommendations for improving the way in which the government approaches and manages major Information Technology projects. Had this guidance existed and been applied in the case of this project, it may have substantially reduced the risk of it failing, or alternatively have led to the project not proceeding in the way it did.

18 Aug 2000

Appropriation Accounts 1998-99 Class XII, Vote 1: Central Government Administered Social Security Benefits and other pay

“No one under-estimates the scale of the Benefits Agency’s task in tackling fraud and error. Nevertheless the levels of both are unacceptably high. In my report I have drawn attention to the important initiatives the Agency have in place in this key area of their business but I also recognise that they face a significant challenge in seeking to achieve a real and lasting improvement.”

21 Jan 2000