Troubled families schemes underperforming - NAO report

Boy on bicycle rides past graffiti on a shop front
Image caption The government aims to help 120,000 troubled families by 2015

Government programmes designed to help England's troubled families are underperforming because of "poor co-ordination" between departments, a National Audit Office report has said.

A Department for Communities scheme is costing £448m, while the Department for Work and Pensions is spending £200m.

The NAO said the work was impacting on truancy, unemployment and anti-social behaviour, but urged improvement.

Ministers said longstanding issues were being addressed in an effective way.

The government estimates that the cost to the taxpayer of troubled families is about £9bn annually, taking into account spending on areas including mental health and drug help, social care and crime.

The DCLG programme is seeking to "turn around" the lives of 120,000 families between 2012 and 2015 and local authorities have been using government funding to help them.

The DWP is aiming to find employment for 22% of individuals in its scheme, which began in 2011 and is set to run until 2015, with contractors working to place people in jobs.

The NAO's report said "key aspects of performance need to improve if the ambitious targets set by the two departments responsible for the programmes are to be met".

And NAO head Amyas Morse warned "elements of both schemes are underperforming".

"This is the result of poor co-ordination between the departments when designing and implementing their programmes and of the risks taken in launching the programmes quickly," he said.

"To achieve value for money, the departments must do more to understand how local authorities and providers react to the incentives in payment-by-results arrangements."

The NAO report also highlighted large variations in performance among the different local authorities and providers.

'Substantial achievements'

Last week, at the half-way stage its scheme, the DCLG announced that local authorities had helped 22,000 families, exceeding a 3% target.

It also said it was now working with 62,000 families - but according to the NAO, this is 13% below the number it should be.

The NAO report added the DWP programme was "falling well short of its projections". None of the firms it contracted had met the department's goals, with only 720 people in jobs by September 2013 - less than 4% of targets.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union said "private companies are proving themselves incapable of providing the kind of complex, dedicated support necessary, despite the hundreds of millions of pounds of public money being funnelled their way".

However, the DWP said the NAO had only examined one area of its work and, in total, 2,400 members of troubled families had been helped into a job since its programme began.

Sir Bob Kerslake, Department for Communities and Local Government Permanent Secretary, added the employment side of the programmes was on an "upward curve", with 150 jobcentre advisers now specifically focusing on troubled families.

He said the DCLG scheme had made "substantial achievements that are changing lives for the better in multiple ways and bringing down the cost of troubled families to the taxpayer, so we are pleased with the progress so far with this innovative initiative".

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