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Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of the City of Edinburgh Council. 
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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 counter fraud activities.
The BFI reports that the council needs to do much more to improve benefits administration and its counter fraud efforts. Inspectors found the council had no strategic approach to combating fraud and error and there were serious weaknesses in internal security.
Some of the recommendations made after the trial inspection in 1997 had been implemented, including a physical merger of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit administration. The report also notes a general improvement in the interface arrangements with the Benefits Agency.
I am now considering the report on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will be asking the council for their proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.
Mr. Rooker: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report in respect of the London Borough of Harrow was published on 12 September 2000, during the 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 notes the council's involvement in developing and piloting initiatives. This is demonstrated by their participation in an innovative Private Finance Initiative project to finance a document imaging and retrieval scheme. Inspectors commended the council's interest in providing front line customer service and introducing modern IT.
BFI found serious weaknesses and deficiencies and considered the council needed to put considerable resources into a number of areas. Inspectors considered more resources were required to clear backlogs of work, implement internal and external audit recommendations, ensure all required referrals were made to the Rent Officer and to improve liaison with housing associations and other landlords.
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The BFI identified a need to enhance training provision, operational processes and written procedural guidance for benefit assessors and fraud investigators. Inspectors say these measures would ensure consistent compliance with the Verification Framework, high quality fraud investigations and compliance with legislative requirements.
The report also makes recommendations for the London Borough of Harrow to implement corporate anti-fraud policies and strategies to create a culture in which fraud is not tolerated. Also that management checks should be re-introduced to ensure that benefit payments are made correctly to the right person.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. 
BFI first reported on the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in July 1999. This second report records the current position and measures the progress made by the council since the first inspection. The report provides recommendations aimed at helping the council address weaknesses and to further improve their benefit administration and counter fraud activities.
Inspectors report that Tower Hamlets has responded positively to recommendations made in the first report. In particular the council was found to be monitoring performance in benefit administration more rigorously and ensuring verification work met a consistently high standard. Inspectors concluded that the council was in a strong position to implement the Verification Framework should it choose to do so.
The report notes the way benefit staff and those dealing with homeless people work together to ensure only eligible claimants receive benefit. Dealing with homeless people can be difficult and inspectors commended the council for its efforts.
The BFI found the council is active in investigating fraud and levying sanctions on fraudsters. Inspectors considered there was potential for further progress through the co-ordination of counter fraud activity against claimants who fail to declare income or change of address.
Mr. Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security which local authorities have been directed to improve their administration of Housing Benefit following a second inspection by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate; and if he will make a statement. 
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Angela Eagle: Directions have not, as yet, been issued following a second inspection by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate of a local authority's Housing Benefit administration. We have, however, given directions in August 2000 to Northampton Borough Council as a result of the Inspectorate's first inspection of that authority.
To date, the Inspectorate has completed second inspections of the London Boroughs of Croydon and Tower Hamlets and Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, all of which had previously been inspected under the powers in section 139A of the Social Security Administration Act 1992. We have previously published the report of the Croydon inspection and are currently studying Croydon council's response to the report. The report on Tower Hamlets will be published this week and the authority will be invited to respond. The report on Sandwell has not yet been published.
Additionally, the Inspectorate has completed inspections of the London Borough of Camden, the City of Edinburgh Council and Newcastle upon Tyne City Council, all of which had previously been the subject of trial inspections which did not take place under the statutory powers.
In the case of Camden we decided that it was not necessary to issue directions. The Inspectorate found that the council had built on the already good standards that were evident during its first inspection. The council has many good practices in place and, in keeping with its Beacon Council status, is readily sharing its knowledge with other authorities.
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Mr. Rooker: All our forms and other products are constantly under review. We frequently adopt suggestions from all areas, including from the public, and we carry out research on the effectiveness of our products. As a result, we constantly make changes and modifications in the interests of clear communication. If my hon. Friend has concerns over a particular form perhaps he will write to me.
Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what procedures exist in his Department for a civil servant to report actions which (a) are illegal, improper or unethical, (b) are in breach of constitutional convention or a professional code, (c) may involve possible maladministration and (d) are otherwise inconsistent with the Civil Service Code. 
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