Styria: strong need for reform in the social services area
Today, the Austrian Court of Audit (ACA) published its report "Tasks and Responsibilities of Social Welfare Associations in Styria – Focus of the Social Welfare Association of the Murtal". Therein, it criticizes the fragmented organization between the district authorities and the social welfare associations. It also acknowledges positively that the government of the province of Styria announced, already during the audit, to “implement a reform of the allocation of costs and to thereby also fully heed the ACA’s recommendations”. The audited period essentially spanned the years from 2015 through 2019.
Lacking transparency due to the fragmentation of tasks
In Styria, both the province and the district authorities, but also the social welfare associations assume tasks in the social services area. To this end, all municipalities of a political district – with the exception of the city of Graz – form a social welfare association each. Such associations have to collect, settle and disburse financial funds for social benefits. This concerns in particular social welfare, the needs-based minimum benefit system, the support for people with disabilities, child and youth welfare and funds for services for the protection of women and minors against violence.
The funding of social services is basically carried out in a ratio of 60 to 40 by the province of Styria and the social welfare associations. The question of who is granted social benefits is mainly decided by the district authorities. The decision-making competence of the social welfare associations is limited to the granting of a few benefits. The auditors criticize that due to this fragmentation of the responsibility for tasks and expenditure for social benefits, the transparency and traceability of the administration and financial management are rendered difficult.
Lack of clarity as regards the allocation of responsibilities
According to the corresponding legal bases, the administrative support apparatus of a social welfare association shall be an agency. This falls into the scope of responsibility of the district authorities, whose tasks are regulated in contracts between the province and the social welfare associations. The district governor is by virtue of their function the head of the agency.
The district authority Murtal therefore also acts as the agency of the social welfare association Murtal. At the time of the audit, the corresponding tasks were carried out to different extents by 20 officials of the social services department of the district authority. The ACA’s audit reveals that a clear allocation of tasks to the agency and the social welfare association could not be achieved on a consistent basis.
Furthermore, the ACA critically points to the fact that based on the contracts between the social welfare associations and the provinces the agencies were entitled to grant benefits for people in difficult circumstances. This contradicts the legal provisions pursuant to which such decisions fall within the scope of responsibility of the association assembly.
The social welfare associations’ rules of procedure are not legally compliant
The rules of procedure of eleven social welfare associations show that their authorized representatives were entitled to tasks for which by law they were not responsible. As the associations did not have rules of procedure in conformity with the law and no association treasurers had been appointed, the regularity of the administration by the social welfare associations was not safeguarded on a consistent basis. This was particularly the case against the backdrop that the province of Styria had to pay more than EUR 400 million annually for social sector benefits, calculated on average over five years (2015 to 2019).
"Critically examine" the social welfare associations
The ACA furthermore found that the budgeted shares of the costs of the social welfare associations to be borne by the province of Styria were consistently insufficient to ensure the liquidity of the social welfare associations throughout the year. It recommends to the province of Styria to comply with the legal requirements of giving a true and fair and as transparent as possible a view of the province when it comes to the preparation of the provincial budgets.
Moreover, the province of Styria should critically question the adequacy of social welfare associations as regards the fragmentation of the processing of social sector benefits by the social welfare associations as clearing and payment offices, the district authorities as agencies and the province of Styria as the body granting the benefits. The way the social sector in Styria is organized should aim at an efficient and lawful performance of tasks. Such tasks are to be clearly assigned. The granting and processing of benefits should be pooled and the financing flows should be disentangled. A suitable form of involvement of the municipalities with regard to their co-financing of the social sector should be pursued.
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Report: Tasks and Responsibilities of Social Welfare Associations in Styria – Focus on the Social Welfare Association of the Murtal (in German)
The ACA audited the tasks and responsibilities of the social welfare associations in Styria with a focus on the social welfare association of the Murtal. The audit aimed at assessing the organization and the financing of the social welfare associations and, in doing so, to analyse the financial flows between the province of Styria and the social welfare associations, in particular in inpatient care. The audited period essentially spanned the years from 2015 through 2019. However, the ACA also took into account recent developments up to and including April 2021.