Housing benefit audit

The Accounts Commission has responsibility for auditing housing and council tax benefit services in Scotland. This benefits performance audit work is incorporated into our annual audit work of local government.

Our Audit Strategy Group carries out a rolling programme of risk assessment of all the 32 benefits services in Scotland.

The work complies with our principles of the Shared Risk Assessment arrangements, and we regularly review our process and procedures to make sure it is risk based, proportionate and scheduled on an annual basis.

On this page:

Memorandum of understanding with The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

Published June 2016

The Accounts Commission has responsibility for auditing housing benefit services in Scotland. Audit Scotland carries out this work as part of the housing benefit audit. The roles and responsibilities of both the DWP and Audit Scotland for improving the quality of administration of housing benefit services in Scotland are contained in the document below.

 Memorandum of understanding with The Department for Work and Pensions - PDF 582Kb

Housing benefit risk assessment programme

Risk assessment reports 2016/17

Risk assessments are completed as part of Audit Scotland’s housing benefit risk assessment programme, and consider the effectiveness of the benefit service in meeting national and local priorities, business planning and reporting, and delivering outcomes.

 Aberdeenshire Council risk assessment report - PDF 400Kb

 Dundee City Council risk assessment report - PDF 313Kb

 East Ayrshire Council risk assessment report - PDF 400Kb

 East Renfrewshire Council risk assessment report - PDF 315Kb

 South Lanarkshire Council risk assessment report - PDF 405Kb

Reports and documents

Review of Housing Benefit fraud investigation liaison arrangements in Scotland

Published 19 January 2017

This report advises of the outcome of a review of Housing Benefit fraud investigation arrangements between local authorities and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) since the responsibility for Housing Benefit counter-fraud work transferred from local authorities to the DWP from July 2014.

The review identifies that the current process does not provide sufficient assurance that public funds administered by local authorities are being protected. The report concludes that despite the significant issues identified, DWP and local authorities in Scotland are committed to delivering process improvements and to implementing a structured and regular approach to local liaison.

 Review of Housing Benefit fraud investigation liaison arrangements in Scotland - PDF 298Kb

Housing Benefit Good Practice Guide: Initiatives which deliver best value

Published 16 June 2016
This report summarises initiatives that were introduced by councils and identified during our audits, and which have helped to deliver Best Value. The report considers the effectiveness of these initiatives in helping to deliver continuous improvement in meeting national and local priorities, business planning, performance reporting and delivering outcomes. These initiatives might be of interest to councils that are finding it difficult to deliver continuous improvement going forward in an environment of reducing budgets and increasing workloads.

 Housing Benefit Good Practice Guide - PDF 349Kb

Benefit performance audit: Annual update 2015/16

Published 16 June 2016

This document details the outcome of Audit Scotland's benefits performance audit work for 2015/16. During 2015/16 we issued 11 reports to councils which identified 45 risks to continuous improvement that were accepted. We found that 85% of risks identified during previous risk assessments had been either fully or partially addressed (83% in 2014/15).

In line with Audit Scotland's objective of identifying and sharing good practice, the following three thematic studies were undertaken during 2015/16:

  • Review of housing benefit subsidy certification issues 2014/15
  • Review of activity to reduce fraud and error in housing benefit
  • Housing Benefit Good Practice Guide: initiatives which deliver best value

 Benefit performance audit: Annual update 2015/16 - PDF 507Kb

Review of housing benefit subsidy certification issues 2014/15

Published 27 January 2016

Audit Scotland has reviewed the housing benefit subsidy certification letters of Scottish local authorities for 2014/15.

Auditors identified 43 errors across 18 local authorities. The errors identified resulted in subsidy being over claimed by £1.134 million (0.06% of expenditure) in the year-end claims submitted by local authorities to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). In addition, one local authority was unable to claim a total of £0.244 million in subsidy as a result of exceeding the DWP's pre-agreed threshold limits for local authority error and administrative delay overpayments.

Auditors reported that most errors were identified in the classification of expenditure and the calculation of claimant income.

The report also identifies that local authorities should review housing benefit  and housing service arrangements in order to ensure that they are prepared to meet the significant challenges posed by future planned subsidy reforms.

 Review of housing benefit subsidy certification issues 2014/15 - PDF 715Kb

Review of activity to reduce fraud and error in housing benefit

Published 29 September 2015

Audit Scotland has carried out a thematic review of the activity undertaken by Scottish councils in order to reduce fraud and error in housing benefit.

This report highlights that the monetary value of housing benefit fraud and error is steadily rising across the UK, with 2014/15 showing a loss of £1.38 billion. Claimant error is the largest contributor to this figure with a total loss of £770 million. We found that from April 2013, there was a reduction in intervention activity as councils were committed to managing the impact of the UK government's welfare reform agenda.

However, during 2014/15, there was a significant increase in intervention activity and improvements were introduced to the methods for identifying suitable cases. Although many councils have introduced innovative ways of carrying out interventions which have produced good results, there is scope for further improvement in others.

 Review of activity to reduce fraud and error in housing benefit - PDF 940Kb

Benefits performance audit: Annual update

Published 11 June 2015 for the Accounts Commission

This document details the outcome of Audit Scotland's benefits performance audit work for 2014/15. It also provides key findings from two thematic reviews. The first was undertaken to establish the extent to which the removal of the spare room subsidy (RSRS) and other welfare reforms have impacted on council rent arrears in Scotland.

The second review analysed the issues identified by auditors during the certification of the 2013/14 housing benefit subsidy claims.

 Benefits performance audit: Annual update - PDF 639Kb

Review of auditors' housing benefit subsidy claim reported errors 2013/14

Published 11 February 2015

Audit Scotland has reviewed errors identified by auditors during the housing benefit (HB) certification process. Auditors identified errors which resulted in subsidy being over-claimed by £0.274 million. In addition, five local authorities were unable to claim a total of £0.784 million in subsidy as a result of exceeding the pre-agreed DWP threshold limits for local authority error and administrative delay HB overpayments.

The areas where most errors were identified were the calculation of claimant income and the classification of overpaid HB.

 Review of auditors' housing benefit subsidy claim reported errors 2013/14 - PDF 743Kb

The impact of welfare reforms on council rent arrears in Scotland

Published 25 September 2014 for the Accounts Commission

This report focuses on local authority rent arrears in order to determine the extent to which the removal of the spare room subsidy (RSRS) and other welfare reforms have impacted on rent arrears in Scotland.

The report highlights that in 2012/13 the value of current tenant rent arrears for all Scottish councils was £28.2 million. Following the introduction of the RSRS, rent arrears increased to £35.1 million by 31 March 2014, which represents an increase of approximately 24% on 2012/13 levels.

 The impact of welfare reforms on council rent arrears in Scotland - PDF 806Kb

Benefits performance audit: Annual update

Published 19 June 2014 for the Accounts Commission

This document details the outcome of Audit Scotland's benefits performance audit work for 2013/14. It also provides key findings from two thematic reviews.

The first was undertaken to establish to what extent housing benefit customers are using council web services to determine entitlement and make applications online.

The second review analysed the 2012/13 housing and council tax benefit subsidy claims to provide insight into the extent to which local authorities lost subsidy from the Department for Work and Pensions.

 Benefits performance audit: Annual update - PDF 498Kb

Review of recovery of benefits subsidy in 2012/13

This report provides insight into the extent to which local authorities are losing subsidy. Audit Scotland reviewed the subsidy claims of all 32 Scottish councils for 2012/13.

The review focused on errors identified by authorities and auditors as well as spending by local authorities which was not fully funded by the Department for Work and Pensions and was therefore a direct cost to local authority budgets.

The report identifies areas of good practice and areas where processes and practices could be revised in order to identify improvements which may help to maximise subsidy payments from DWP in future years and reduce the direct cost to councils.

 Review of recovery of benefits subsidy in 2012/13 - PDF 1.21Mb

 Review of recovery of benefits subsidy in 2012/13 - summary report - PDF 230Kb

Claiming housing benefit online

Audit Scotland reviewed the websites of all 32 Scottish councils to establish to what extent housing benefit (HB) customers are using council web services.

A questionnaire was issued to each of the councils to determine entitlement and make applications online.

This report sets out the main findings from the review. It also highlights areas of concern and areas of good practice that could be used by councils to improve access for customers to the HB claim process.

 Claiming housing benefit online: a review of council websites - PDF 310Kb

Benefits performance audit: Annual update

Published 2 September 2013 for the Accounts Commission

This document details the outcome of Audit Scotland's benefits performance audit work for 2012/13. It also provides an update on Scottish council’s preparedness for welfare reform and the key findings from a review of housing benefit overpayments in Scottish councils.

 Benefits performance audit: Annual update - PDF 406Kb

Welfare reform: Update

Published 22 May 2013 for the Accounts Commission

This report provides an update on the UK Government's welfare reform agenda, and the implications and risks for Scottish councils.

It details the various changes already implemented, as well as those still to be introduced. Also included, is information on some of the activities being undertaken by Scottish councils and the Scottish Government to prepare themselves and their stakeholders for the impact of the changes.

 Welfare reform: Update - PDF 96Kb

Review of housing benefit overpayments 2008/09 to 2011/12

Published 24 January 2013 for the Accounts Commission

Audit Scotland has reviewed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) housing benefit overpayments information regarding Scottish councils published by the DWP for the period 2008/09 to 2011/12.

Trends were identified where possible, and performance in Scotland was compared against English and Welsh councils in respect of the identification and recovery of overpayments. This report sets out the main findings from this review.

 Review of housing benefit overpayments 2008/09 to 2011/12 - PDF 518Kb

Local authority self-assessment

Self-assessment guidance and templates

This provides guidance on the level and type of information to submit as part of the local authorities self-assessment, and also includes templates for self-assessment, for providing performance information and for a suggested action plan which can be used when responding to the risk assessment report.

 Local authority self-assessment guidance - PDF 49Kb

 Local authority self-assessment template - RTF 327Kb

 Local authority performance information spreadsheet - XLS 54Kb

 Action plan template - RTF 34Kb