I submitted a Freedom of Information request a few weeks ago regarding the ‘spot checks’ process which DCLG operates in relation to the Troubled Families Programme. On page 10 of the DCLG ‘financial framework’ publication for the programme, it states that in addition to local audit processes for PBR claims submitted by local authorities, Department for Communities and Local Government will carry out a small number of ‘spot checks’ in a sample of areas’.
I received the response last week and it is mildly interesting. I haven’t really got the time to do anything comprehensive with it, or to follow it up with further requests so I thought I’d just leave it here with a couple of initial thoughts.
Firstly, it’s important to note that it is not the same audit process that is being inspected at different times. Each local authority has their own audit process for the TFP – some may be the same but there is no single, centrally identified way of auditing claims made by local authorities in respect of the families they have ‘turned around’. We also don’t know why claims might not have been ‘valid’ – they could have been erroneous or fraudulent, but I didn’t request that information.
Secondly, from the figures provided we can work out that around 2.1% of claims have been ‘spot checked’ in total, which seems, to me at least, very light touch for a new programme working with people leading sometimes very complex lives and for a supposedly ‘radical’ new way of resourcing work with local authorities.
Thirdly, whilst we can’t make any generalisations because of the first point, it would appear, from the last spot check process, that good practice isn’t necessarily being shared, given that 10% of claims ‘spot checked’ were found to be not ‘valid’, compared with between 2% and 3.1% in previous rounds. Who knows why/how this happened? It may have been a ‘rogue authority’ chancing their arm, it may have been an accidental cock-up, it may have been a number of smaller unrelated issues, or it may have been down to the pressure to ‘turn around’ the requisite number of families in time for the Prime Minister’s deadline of May 2016. We just don’t know….
Fourthly, if we were to ‘extrapolate’ from this data, one could suggest that, in the final round of Payment By Results submissions from local authorities, there may have been around 1600 claims that weren’t valid for one reason or another (10% of roughly 16,000 claims submitted in total) covering the period from August 2014 to October 2014. Which seems like quite a lot….
Fifthly, and finally, the benefits system, which is way more complex than all of this runs at around 2% for erroneous and fraudulent claims combined – and we hear quite a lot about the need to radically reform that particular administrative system, but not so much about this one…
So there you go – make of it what you will.