National Audit Office: local governments burden people and the state burdens local governments unreasonably in the collection of welfare information

Priit Simson | 12/18/2019 | 3:47 PM

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TALLINN, 19 December 2019 – The audit of the National Audit Office indicated that the collection of information in the course of the social work of local governments and the administration and use of such information is not well organised. This results in an excessive burden and the fact that the collected information is not used in the best way. The problem arises largely from the STAR information system developed by the state, which still hasn’t started working as intended 10 years after its establishment.

When applying for social services and benefits, people are often asked to provide information that the local government could get itself from the state’s or its own databases, or information that is not of much importance in the proceedings. The application forms of the audited local governments (Tallinn, Pärnu, Jõhvi) included such data fields to the extent of ca 20%.

The main reasons given for this by local governments are the gaps and faults in the national social services and benefits data register (STAR), which the state has tried to implement for years as a social work tool for local governments. STAR obviously has to be fixed, but there are also other options for getting information from the state’s databases that can be used in the meantime. Contacting a person is justified if all other reasonable ways of collecting the data have been exhausted. The practices of local governments are different and there were examples of cases where the result was achieved without burdening people too much. For example, a person applying for subsistence benefit was faced with a form comprising 50 fields in Pärnu, the form used in Lasnamäe, Tallinn, only had 17 fields.

The large number of different application forms is also a burden, as finding the correct one may not be easy. There are few ‘universal’ application forms, where the applicant could express their needs for several services and benefits at the same time. The options for using e-channels to sort out welfare-related matters with local governments are also poor. For example, obtaining the application form of a service or benefit from a website was often impossible, not to mention filling it in and submitting it electronically. The services appropriate for an e-state, which are partly or fully automated, tend to be exceptions in the welfare organised by local governments.

The audit also revealed that the information collected from people is often duplicated and the same information is often held in several places (paper files, information systems). Also, information of different content is often not kept in the same place (e.g. application on paper file, responses to information requests in STAR, some calculations in Excel). It can be said that although much information is collected, it’s value is largely unrealised. No in-depth analyses for identification of risks, assessment of the impact of measures and their correction, etc., are carried out. This is partly caused by the abundance of paper in information management as well as the poor quality of the information entered in information systems.

The STAR information system developed by the state has not developed into a tool that supports local governments. The system is necessary in principle, but the frequent technical problems of STAR, the issues in its operating logic, etc. have generated a lot of unreasonable work. The Ministry of Social Affairs has not managed to solve these problems decisively in 10 years.

The problems of STAR, in turn, amplify many of the other problems described above (e.g. the burden of people in the submission of data, duplication of information). Things started moving in the right direction after the delivery of STAR to the Social Insurance Board, but it’s still not clear whether and when the local governments will find a solution to the issues raised.

The submission of data to the state is a considerable burden for local governments. Data must be regularly entered in the STAR system and statistical reports must be submitted once a year. Statistical reporting (11 different reports) is a particularly big burden and collecting the data needed therefor may take days. Local governments themselves don’t often use these data in this format. The National Audit Office also found that the burden of statistical reporting is not in reasonable balance with the actual need for data. The examples of data use given by the Ministry of Social Affairs do not convince us that all of the data are consistently needed in as much detail as now. They are often only used once and loosely connected with the objective of collection (articles in the media, preparation of the ministry’s visits, etc.).

The National Audit Office made recommendations to local governments, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Social Insurance Board for solving the problems raised in the audit.


Priit Simson
Communication Manager of the National Audit Office
+372 640 0777
+372 5615 0280
[email protected]
[email protected]

  • Posted: 12/18/2019 3:47 PM
  • Last Update: 12/19/2019 12:30 PM
  • Last Review: 12/19/2019 12:30 PM

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