Headlines: May 19th, 1999

Research into the management of housing benefit payments and council tax collection has shown that performance indicators are not a reliable way to assess effectiveness and efficiency. The research, carried out by Loughborough University, revealed that multiple objectives often conflict. Minimising resource costs may conflict with tackling benefit fraud. Some authorities place greater emphasis on take-up and have more extensive accuracy and verification checks than others. This higher level of accuracy puts up the resource costs, but these are far outweighed by the savings made from more accurate payments. The researchers concluded that it does not always follow that high cost councils are inefficient, or that low cost councils are examples of good practice.

There are also wide variations between the performance measures of different authorities, but the researchers are doubtful about comparing data because of differences in financial accounting practices. They believe that these differences make it difficult to make any reliable comparison of costs.

The findings from the review will be used by Department for Social Security in its planning to simplify Housing Benefit, and by the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions in selecting councils for Beacon Council status. The Beacon Council Scheme will identify centres of excellence in local government from which other councils can learn through the holding ‘open days’ or sharing best practice.