Headlines: August 7th, 1998

The Benefits Agency has been praised for publicly failing to reach one of its
performance targets.

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, says the Benefits Agency,
which pays out in excess of 75 billion pounds to over 20 million people each year, has implemented better internal validation procedures to check its own claims about whether it meets targets set each year by the Secretary of State.

Last year significant inaccuracies were uncovered in data recorded against the
agency’s targets. In one case the inaccuracy was sufficient to raise doubts
over whether the target had actually been achieved.

Sir John says that since then the Agency has made substantial efforts to
improve the quality of its data.

These procedures enabled Internal Audit to identify inaccuracies in data
recorded against the Secretary of State’s target for Express Family Credit and
as a consequence the target was reported as not achieved in the Agency’s
1997-98 Annual Report.

Sir John says that the Benefits Agency, along with other executive agencies,
could provide greater assurance to Parliament about their reported performance
by arranging for the performance information in their published annual reports
to be validated by an external party.

Benefits Agency: Performance Measurement is available for eleven pounds 65
pence. ISBN: 0105521361
A summary of Sir John’s findings is available at: www.open.gov.uk/nao/pn.htm.