Benefits service improvements despite covid impact
INVERCLYDE Council has been highlighted in a national report for improving delivery of vital benefits despite difficulties and increased workloads caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A new study by the Accounts Commission, which scrutinises local government, has found that the Inverclyde Council revenue and benefits service performed better than the Scottish average and even reduced new claim processing times while dealing with the challenges of coronavirus.
The report looked specifically at performance of local authorities in dealing with housing benefit claims during the pandemic but acknowledged the work of staff in dealing with a variety of other benefits, including new Covid-19 support funds for businesses.
Despite the challenges of staff shortages – covid and non-covid related, home working and increased workloads, the Inverclyde Council service had an effective operating capacity of 92.9 per cent when taking account of available resources, which was above the 89 per cent average across Scotland.
The report also highlighted how staff reduced the average time to process new claims by three days compared with 2019/20.
The improvements were made despite the service operating at two per cent below its full time equivalent (FTE) staffing levels during the 2020/21 financial year and when 68 FTE staff days were lost as a direct result of Covid-19, such as illness, self-isolation and ‘shielding’, and 81 days lost through general absences.
As well as their usual work dealing with some 10,000 housing benefit and council tax reduction claims, the revenue and benefits team took on responsibility for processing and paying out £21 million across 11 new covid business grants between April 2020 and July this year, delivered the £130 Low Income Pandemic Payment to nearly 9,800 residents, and made £100 Inverclyde Council Covid Costs Grant payments to nearly 4,000 households.
Councillor Stephen McCabe, leader of Inverclyde Council, said: “Staff across the council performed heroically during the pandemic and managed to adapt quickly to overcome the many challenges and ensure continued operation of high-quality public services.
“This report looks at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Scottish councils’ benefits services and highlights how our revenue and benefits team not only dealt with the many obstacles they faced but how they actually improved their performance in many areas all while taking on the extra responsibilities like administering £21 million worth of grants across almost a dozen new coronavirus business support funds.”
The report, entitled ‘The impact of Covid-19 on Scottish councils’ benefit services’, also praised the council for some of its working practices.
It says: “Electronic authorisation of payment runs has been introduced saving time, and payment schedules for landlords are now printed and posted by an external printer.
“In addition, the introduction of an internal chat facility and the use of remote meetings has proven to be an efficient use of employee time.”
Cllr McCabe, who is also Inverclyde’s welfare and financial inclusion champion, said: “The successes highlighted in this report are testament to the hard work and dedication of council staff under immense pressure.”
For benefits help and advice, visit www.inverclyde.gov.uk/advice-and-benefits.