The Accounts Commission recently published report on facing local authority housing benefit services across Scotland has demonstrated the good work taking place in West Lothian to help some of our most vulnerable residents.
The report highlighted the unprecedented challenges and additional burdens facing these teams due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
Leader of West Lothian Council Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: "I'm delighted that the fantastic work of the dedicated staff in our Anti-Poverty service has been recognised by the Accounts Commission.
"The pandemic led to the demand for benefits services increasing substantially, which created additional challenges for the Anti-Poverty service.
"The way the team rose to meet these challenges was superb, managing to not just maintain vital services but actually deliver improvements in key areas.
"I would encourage anyone who needs free, high-quality impartial advice on areas such as debt, energy or benefits to contact the Advice Shop on 01506 283000 or email Advice Shop."
The impact of Covid-19 restrictions resulted in a fundamental change to the delivery of housing benefit services across Scotland. With the sudden move to staff working remotely, West Lothian Council's housing benefit service was in a strong position to quickly restructure the service and implement existing contingency plans to enable staff to work from home.
This allowed the service to remain accessible and functional during the pandemic, with West Lothian Council also held up as an example of good IT practice within the report.
With more than half of councils experiencing a reduction in staffing for housing benefits services during the pandemic, West Lothian Council increased staff by 1.5FTE (full-time equivalent) to help support those affected.
No absence days were lost to the housing benefit service as a direct result of the pandemic. The benefit team actually improved their performance in 2020/21 when compared to 2019/20.
New claims processing reduced from 14 days to 11 days, while processing changes of circumstance claims reduced by over a day to 2.57 days. Not only did the performance improve the service also managed to maintain housing benefit accuracy performance throughout the pandemic period.