End of outsourcing cuts Hackney benefit backlog


End of outsourcing cuts Hackney benefit backlog

Tony Collins
Hackney Council has greatly reduced a long-term backlog of processing work on housing and council tax benefit claims since ending a privatised IT contract at the end of March this year.

But the council still has serious problems. Last week, for the first time, the Government invoked the first stage of powers that, ultimately, would allow Whitehall to take control of a failing council.

Citing the 1999 Local Government Act, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has issued a series of directions to Hackney Council aimed at tackling what officials describe as "a legacy of financial mismanagement".

Among these is a requirement to "clear the large backlog of outstanding housing benefit and council tax benefit work by 31 December".

In April, the council brought the processing of claims for housing and council tax benefits back in-house after ending a £70m outsourcing contract with local government IT services specialist ITNet. The termination of the contract was marked by mutual threats of legal action and difficulties in bringing the service back in-house.

But this week Andrew Bridgwater, Liberal Democrat opposition leader of the Labour-controlled council, said fewer tenants are being threatened with eviction because their benefit claims have not been paid. "I am told the backlog has been cut by 63% since we took the service back in-house," he said. At one point the council put the number of outstanding cases at 40,000, although ITNet said it was only 9,000.

Bridgwater added that the council still faces an "enormous task" in meeting the Government's ultimatum by 31 December.

Nobody at Hackney Council was available for comment.

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