The committee is requested to consider the Audit Reports, the Position Statements, Progress Report and the 2019/2020 Draft Audit Plan
The Committee considered the report, circulated with the agenda.
Mr James introduced the audit reports for the Museum and TIC, and General Data Protection Regulations, and the positions statements for the Revenues and Benefits Overpayments, and Housing Benefits Key Financial Systems Audit, Audit Progress and the Audit Plan 2019/2020. Ms Thorndyke who was in attendance to answer questions relating to the Museum and TIC Audit.
The Committee made the following comments and received answers to questions as follows:
Museum and TIC Audit Report:
· Will an audit be carried out for the Museum as a whole?: Members were advised income reconciliations and incomes streams had been looked at before as a separate piece of work. This audit dealt with areas not previously been looked at by any other audit. Ms Thorndyke added that the audit had been welcomed as officers were keen to improve processes and would implement all of the recommendations.
Revenues and Benefits Overpayments:
· What was the impact on the Council accounts?: Overpayment repayments were logged against the individual debtor’s record to show when a payment had been received. The Accountancy Team looked at the overall housing benefit overpayment taking into account the age of the debt and would then assess the need for a bad debt provision. Recuperated money was not paid back to the Department of Work and Pensions due to the error being adjusted in the Council’s subsidy claim. Time barred overpayments would be written off for which members received an annual summery of these write offs. Bad debt provision for these overpayments was currently between 70%-90% due to the age of debt, an increased due to the level of housing benefit overpayments. At the end of the financial year this figure would be looked at to see if the Council’s debt provision was sufficient, taking into account the progress the Debt Recovery Team had made regarding the outstanding debts and whether they could be economically recovered. Occasionally some people over pay on their repayment arrangements with the Council when recovering housing benefit overpayments, although this was not many, or for large amounts, but the Debt Recovery Team will try to contact the people to stop the payment arrangement.
· Details of the Age Debtor Profile were requested: The age of debts was declared in the Council’s annual accounts and officers undertook to provide details once the accounts for 2018-2019 had been finalised.
· Are creditors advised they have made housing benefit overpayments to the Council?: The Council send out notifications once full payment was made. However, some people did not receive their notification as they had moved property and had to be traced. Some had set up standing orders which did not automatically stop once full payment had been made to the Council. Changes to the benefits process allowed the sharing of claimant’s personal data, via organisations such as HMRC, leaving less reliance on the claimant having to notify the Council of changes in their personal circumstances.
· Write-off Policy: The Policy set out the reasons why a debt can be written off including where it would no longer be economic to collect the debt. It was likely that this financial year will result in a large amount being written off following a review of the debts by the Specialist Overpayments Officer working in the Debt Recovery team and their assessment of the likelihood of recovering the debt. This year progress had been of concern on debt recovery following the staffing resources issues arising from the Revenue and Benefits service review. The Audit Team had issued the positon statement as it recognised that the Revenues and Benefits Section was struggling to clear the overpayments, which resulted in the appointment of a Specialist Overpayments Officer post for one year. A full debt recovery audit would be undertaken during the next financial year and the results brought before the Committee.
· How claimant’s had received overpayments?: Mrs Belenger undertook to find out.
On behalf of the Committee, Mr Hobbs thanked Mr James and his Team for all their work in carrying out this important function. He said that members could give the impression that they were digging away as officers were not doing their job, but it was their job to test. He said that members considered that everything was going well and although there were small things that could be improved it was members’ duty to ask questions.
That the Audit reports, the Position Statements, Progress Report and the 2019/2020 Draft Audit Plan be noted.