HOUSING benefit management is getting back on track in Basingstoke, with staff morale up and processing time for claims falling fast - councillors have been told.

At a meeting of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council's scrutiny committee, chief executive Gordon Holdcroft revealed how a £200,000 rescue package has salvaged the service from a poor performance record.

He said: "Two years ago, we weren't in a very good position, but we took on a dedicated training manager, a qualified officer and three qualified assessors."

Councillor Phil Heath asked: "Have you identified what went wrong to get the benefits department in that position and what have you done to stop it getting there again?"

Mr Holdcroft said: "We didn't sit back just because it was a difficult situation - we had to take some actions in the face of that.

"We set up a framework to bring in social landlords and reduce processing time. This has helped to improve morale.

"Two years ago, morale was rated as four or five out of 10. Now, it's seven to eight and I'm assured it won't be long before it's nine or 10."

The meeting heard the council is now within striking distance of a Government target figure of 35 days to process an average housing benefit claim.

This achievement will put Basingstoke in the top 25 per cent of councils in the country.

The scrutiny committee decided housing benefit services will be reassessed in six months and that a four-strong working party will continue to receive monthly reports.

Concluding his report, Mr Holdcroft said: "We have been putting building blocks in place so we can deliver year on year improvements in our services, but it's also fair to say that we know few councils do better as a team.

"We've got the morale in place, we've got the team in place and we'd like to move on and deliver on our targets - I am proud of the staff."