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War Graves at Sea

Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with other Governments about the protection of war graves at sea; and if he will make a statement. [134470]

Dr. Moonie: In conjunction with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my officials have been represented at UNESCO meetings to discuss the Draft Convention of the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. The issue of war graves has been discussed.

My officials have periodic informal contact with officials from Embassies in London to discuss the war graves issue. Record of such contacts are not kept.

Official Residences

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will provide a breadown of (a) the annual running costs, including separate breakdowns for the maintenance, furniture and equipment costs, for each official service residence, (b) the subject matter of contracts of more than £5,000 for each residence and (c) the annual cost of domestic and household staff for each residence; and if

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he will identify the county in which each official service residence is situated and the rank of the officer in residence. [134431]

Dr. Moonie: I will write to the hon. Member and a copy of my letter will be placed in the Library of the House.

Departmental Building Costs

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to renovate his Department's headquarters in Whitehall. [134433]

Dr. Moonie: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Pollard) on 17 May 2000, Official Report, columns 162-63W.

LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT

Magistrates Courts

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what action she is taking to improve security in magistrates courts. [134228]

Jane Kennedy: Responsibility for security in magistrates courts rests with the Magistrates Courts Committee. The Lord Chancellor's Department has supported the issue of guidance to Magistrates Courts Committees on preventing violence to staff, magistrates and courts users. Where bids are received the Magistrates Courts Committees paying authority to install security equipment in court buildings, the Department treats them as a high priority for capital funding allocations. The Department also has a programme for the installation of secure docks where a need has been identified.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Child Support, Pensions and

Social Security Act 2000

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he received the Government Actuary's report under section 36 of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000; and when he will lay it before Parliament. [134263]

Mr. Rooker: The Government Actuary is currently finalising his report. It will be published when it is completed.

Family Credit

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to his answer of 27 July 2000, Official Report, column 878W, if he will publish his estimate of the number of people entitled to family credit in 1998-99. [134576]

Angela Eagle: Estimates of numbers entitled to Family Credit in 1998-99 will be published on 8 December 2000 in "Income related benefits--estimates of take-up", a copy of which will be available in the Library.

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Child Support Scheme

Mr. Laxton: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to improve delivery of the child support scheme. [135682]

Angela Eagle: The Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 provides the legislative basis for a reformed, and more customer focused, child support scheme. We are today placing in the Libraries copies of our improvement plan, "Operational Vision--Reforming the Child Support Scheme", which sets out the way in which the new service is to be delivered. Additional copies for hon. Members are available from the Vote Office.

Fraud

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Bristol City Council [135681]

Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report was published today in respect of Bristol City Council and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report provides recommendations aimed at helping the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as its counter-fraud activities.

BFI reports a lack of senior management accountability in Bristol City Council. Management information was found to be poor with no effective means of measuring and monitoring performance at a corporate level and the council was unable to reconcile information between different accounting systems. BFI states this led them to question the integrity of the data used to claim DSS subsidy.

Inspectors found serious deficiencies in the council's administration of benefits and efforts to counter fraud which require immediate attention. The report notes serious concerns about weaknesses in the assessment, control and payment of benefit. The BFI concluded that the council had no effective assurance that claims were calculated correctly from the outset.

The classification of overpayments and recovery of debts was considered to be poorly managed across sites with no specific policy for the recovery of Housing Benefit overpayments. The council could not provide details of debts recovered.

In the area of counter-fraud activities, the BFI raises concern about the limited resources being deployed and the general poor quality of investigations. Despite this, the council has had some success in prosecuting benefit cheats.

More positively, Inspectors found that Bristol City Council keeps the public informed about access to benefits and has a well designed claim form. A formal and structured training and development programme is operated for staff and implementation of the Verification Framework in 1999 had been well managed.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

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Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he expects to publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Nottingham City Council. [135678]

Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report in respect of Nottingham City Council was published on 5 October 2000, during parliamentary recess. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report provides recommendations aimed at helping the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as their respective counter-fraud activities.

Inspectors found the council's staff committed to battling against arrears of work and striving to overcome long-term problems associated with a shortfall in staff resources and deficiencies in management and control.

The report identifies some effective work in the benefits processing area, but also several areas of deficiency. The BFI considered the council needed to introduce a structured regime of checking to gain necessary management assurance about security, accuracy and quality in benefit administration. The report states that the council's management needs to be more actively involved and that security concerns and audit recommendations should be addressed promptly.

The BFI found counter-fraud work was particularly weak, despite a steer from council members in 1997 that there was support for effective action to be pursued against fraudsters. To address this, the BFI recommends a thorough review of all counter-fraud operations.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and has asked the council for their proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he expects to publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Burnley Borough Council. [135677]

Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report in respect of Burnley Borough Council was published on 5 October, during parliamentary recess. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report provides recommendations aimed at helping the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as their respective counter-fraud activities.

The BFI reports that, at the time of the inspection, the council was providing a poor service to claimants, particularly in the time taken to process many claims. The report identifies weaknesses in the council's application of the Verification Framework (VF) and a failure to ensure all appropriate references had been made to the Rent Officer.

The report notes that little action had been taken by the council to address potential problems associated with private landlord cases which make up a high proportion of the claims case load and represent one of the highest risk areas. BFI identified that the council needs to

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introduce effective liaison arrangements with its local landlords and for relevant information to be collected so that risks can be assessed.

Inspectors report that the work of the counter-fraud section was not managed effectively and there was a need for the council to use its fraud database to analyse risk categories and prosecute offenders where appropriate.

During the inspection, the council was planning to clear arrears of work and recruit and train additional staff. The BFI considered work backlogs needed to be tackled as a matter of urgency. A reduction in delays for processing claims and tightening the application of the VF in the areas specified in the BFI report could, inspectors say, greatly improve the service provided to claimants, and, at the same time, tighten the gateway to benefits.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and has asked the council for their proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, when he expects to publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council. [135676]

Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report in respect of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council was published on 12 September 2000, during parliamentary recess. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report provides recommendations aimed at helping the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as their respective counter-fraud activities.

The BFI report found that Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council performed well in some areas and that staff were both helpful and committed to raising the standard of benefit delivery and counter-fraud work. However noticeable differences in performance and procedure were identified between the two sites of Neath and Port Talbot.

Inspectors considered that some good counter-fraud practices had been introduced, such as a prosecutions panel. However, the BFI found that the council did not make effective use of the statutory powers for inspectors given by the 1997 Fraud Act. As well as identifying a need to improve investigation techniques, the report notes a lack of performance targets for investigators.

Inspectors state overpayments recovery was a particularly weak area with no specific overpayment policy and no targets for staff. There was no management information collected which could have helped the council to prevent overpayments occurring. Finally, because classification of overpayments were poor and essential procedures are not followed, the BFI raised doubts about the validity of the council's subsidy claim.

More positively, inspectors found the council has elected member support for its counter-fraud efforts. It has recently introduced the Verification Framework, which will provide a minimum set of standards for ensuring verification checks are made on claims.

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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and has asked the council for their proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

Mr. Goggins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Westminster City Council [135680]

Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report was published today in respect of Westminster City Council and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report provides recommendations aimed at helping the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as their respective counter-fraud activities.

The BFI reports that the council has a strong client side team to manage its contracted out benefit administration and counter fraud work. However, the complex management framework and associated organisational arrangements has led to inefficiencies and delays in processes. The report notes that significant work will be required by the council before it can give an assurance that the right amount of benefit goes to the right person in every case.

Inspectors found levels of verification being applied to claims did not meet the minimum standards of the Verification Framework (VF) and recommend full implementation of the VF.

Inspectors considered the council's benefits claim form required enhancement so as to reduce the number of requests made to claimants for further information. The BFI also recommends formal liaison arrangements should be introduced with private sector landlords. Inspectors report there is potential for the council to make greater use of statutory powers for the recovery of overpayments from private landlords and for registering debts with the court.

The report notes the council's strong counter-fraud stance which is supported by elected members. BFI states performance in fraud investigations would be improved if the council set targets for investigations and monitored outcomes.

Inspectors noted a number of good practices and initiatives such as the council's work with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Region's Rough Sleepers Unit and work undertaken to improve liaison arrangements between the Benefit Service and the Housing Department.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for their proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what the baseline figure is for the amount of fraud and error in income support and jobseeker's allowance against which the targets in the Comprehensive Spending Review will be measured in (a) cash terms and (b) as a proportion of the total expenditure on these benefits. [134582]

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Mr. Rooker: The target in the Comprehensive Spending Review is to reduce the percentage of loss from fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance. The baseline figure as a proportion of total expenditure on these benefits is 9 per cent.


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