Faults with Council benefit system

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

WIGAN Council bosses have been urged to review benefit payment calculations after independent auditors found fault with the system.

The town hall’s accounts have received an overall clean bill of health from the annual external assessment.

But the way in which housing benefit is worked out has raised concerns after a number were found to have been “incorrectly processed.”

Although the errors are not significant enough to have been identified as a “significant risk of misstatement”, deputy chief executive Paul McKevitt said the errors were being taken seriously.

The findings are part of a report by accountancy firm Grant Thornton to be considered by the council’s audit committee next week.

Auditors reviewed 30 cases along with a further 30 reviewed by the council and 25 per cent were found to have been incorrectly processed.

The report reads: “(These errors) increase the risk of incurring financial penalties, bearing the cost of any additional audit work and more importantly potentially under or overpays benefits to claimants.

“We have reviewed the types and size of the errors and have concluded that they do not present a significant risk.”

Adding: “We recommend to management that they undertake a further detailed review of the controls in place.”

The report also states that the council hit its £14m savings target for the year and “continues to demonstrate a good track record of meeting efficiency targets and managing its revenue budget effectively.”

The amount the town hall has general fund reserves increased to £15.36m while earmarked reserves now total £104.4m.

Financial reserves is a topic regularly brought up at council meetings by opposition members who have called on council leaders not to keep so much in reserve.

The report adds: “The opportunity has also been taken to re-prioritise and repackage a number of reserves to assist in the delivery of the transformation agenda. Many of the reserves are fully committed and will be spent over the next couple of years.

“Given the uncertainties facing local government finance, and the possibility that interest rates will begin to rise, the council keeps the level of general fund balances and borrowing under close review.”

Mr McKevitt, said: “In terms of the financial impact to the council whilst these are relatively small in terms of the overall audit that doesn’t mean that we won’t be taking the recommendations seriously and will look to improve our processes. Overall though I was pleased that the Auditors report confirmed the sound financial processes that we have in place and the recognised the work that the finance and internal audit teams have put into the preparation of the accounts.”