Changes to the way housing and council tax benefits are assessed will cut time and money, Oxford City Council has promised.

Last year, the Government’s watchdog branded the council’s benefits system as “poor”

and criticised its high cost to taxpayers.

The Audit Commission said processing times were too long, with new benefits claims taking an average of 23 days.

But councillors hope a new system of assessing claims will cut through the red tape and make the whole process easier.

Val Smith, the city’s executive member responsible for the service, said: “The whole thing has become cumbersome, all these rules and regulations just build up.

“And the longer the process takes, the more money it costs the council. This is an opportunity to look at it again.”

More than 10,000 people currently claim council tax benefit, and more than 11,000 people claim housing benefits each year.

At the city executive board on Wednesday, councillors approved plans to adopt a ‘risk-based verification policy’ to assess both benefits.

This concentrates more on the risk profile of each claimant, and targets most resources at those that are higher risk, where officers say most of the fraud and error will be.

It means the average low-risk person will now only have to produce a proof of identity and their National Insurance number.

Until now they have had to bring in a selection of original identification documents, including proof of work for two months.

Mrs Smith said: “We are cutting down on everything, so if you are just an ordinary Joe Bloggs putting in a claim, you are not going to produce all the papers you had to previously.

“And any original documents will now be photocopied straight away rather than being forced to leave your valuables with the office.

“This is good news. It is going to help people out and will cost a lot less money.”

About 55 per cent of cases are now expected to be low-risk, 2 5 per cent medium and 20 per cent high-risk.

Oxford City Council will save an estimated £70,000 per year by adopting the new system. No date has yet been set for the new scheme to be adopted.

Mrs Smith added: “It is important to stress that people who are high-risk will still be undergoing all the checks, so no one will be getting away with anything.

“This is about just cutting through all the red tape and making the process easier for everyone else.”