Confidential papers, seen by Ipswich Spy, revealed the shocking figures to a meeting of senior councillors from three authorities last week.
In an appendix to a report by the head of the Shared Revenue Partnership, it was revealed that more than 10 people had been waiting more than 64 days for a new claim to be processed.
The same appendix revealed that around 80 people had been waiting more than 64 days for changes in their circumstances to be processed.
Yet under the heading of Performance, the report claims that “Ipswich new claim performance remains sound as it is supported by the “fast track” mechanism set up with the customer service team,” and that “Benefit changes and Atlas files are being completed in a timely manner and are reflected in the processing times for changes.”
One senior councillor familiar with the figures told us that the length of time people were being made to wait was “disgusting”.
Ipswich Borough Council were asked to confirm these figures last week, but have not responded.
Last year the Shared Revenues Partnership came in for criticism after it was revealed that the accuracy of claims had dipped following the implementation of a new computer system. SRP committee members said then that this was because claims were being dealt with more quickly at the expense of accuracy.
The average time taken to deal with a new claim in Ipswich has remained remarkably stable, at between 20 and 25 days for most of last year, although the average time to process claims peaked last summer at 44 days. Yet the number of people whose claim took more than 64 days has doubled between November and January.
The Shared Revenue Partnership was set up by three local authorities to save money, providing a fast and reliable service.
Clearly if new claimants are having to wait weeks for claims to be processed, it effects people who are, by definition, amongst the financially vulnerable in society. It risks driving people into the arms of illegal money lenders of exactly the type co-ordinated action is targetting in the South East of Ipswich this week.
And if changes in circumstance take so long to be processed, there is a chance that people will incur overpayments and have to repay money, or will be underpaid their benefit and be driven to borrow money from loan sharks at frightening rates of interest.
Whilst the majority of claims are processed much more quickly than 64 days, the fact is nobody should have to wait that long for their claim to be processed. When you are struggling to make ends meet, every penny counts. To have to wait weeks for help with bills that just keep coming is disgusting.