Manchester City Council has launched an investigation into its acquisition of a new housing and council tax benefits package that has led to a disastrous backlog of claims.
The situation is so bad that officials have warned benefit claimants chasing payments up to six months overdue that every contact is making the delays worse.
Richard Paver, Manch-ester City treasurer, said, "People contacting the benefits service or visiting to chase up claims only serve to further delay the process. Claimants are advised only to make contact in absolute emergencies."
The benefits crisis developed in Manchester last autumn after the council abandoned an in-house housing and council tax benefits system and installed a Bull Logos system running on the council's Bull DPS mainframe(Computer Weekly, 2 December).
A report presented to the council's finance and general purposes scrutiny committee on 22 March said it was necessary to investigate "the rational behind the acquisition of the Logos Benefits system and the staffing structure introduced in March 1999".
The investigation has been extended to "officers who have left the authority to see if there is further information that can be brought to light".
Manchester's new IT system became operational in November 1999, and Paver said, "We anticipated some difficulties as the new system becomes established and staff become more familiar and competent using it."
The city treasurer admitted the current backlog was bigger than predicted, and extra staff have been recruited.
The council now has 70,000 items waiting to be processed - the equivalent of seven weeks' incoming mail.
Officials say it will take until the end of the year before the backlog is reduced to 40,000 items - the equivalent of four weeks' claims. Government guidelines call for a two-week turnaround of claims.
The council's scrutiny committee report states, "There have been a number of problems with the DIP [document management] system and other computer facilities which have reduced productivity on some occasions."
Bull, which provided the Logos system and Anite, which provided the DIP system, told Computer Weekly there were no technical problems at Manchester Council.
Benefits backlog claimants may have to wait up to six months