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Mr. Nicholas Brown: From July 2001 the Nottingham Employment Zone will be extended to cover Bulwell East and Bulwell West in my hon. Friend's constituency. From January 2002 the Nottingham Action Team for Jobs will also be extended so that these two wards will be brought within its scope.
The benefits service has been outsourced to a contractor and, although inspectors consider the terms of the contract are acceptable, the council's management of it has been poor. As a result, the council has failed to eradicate its longstanding, and now, substantial, backlog of work. BFI considers this failure underlies many of the problems that the council now faces.
The report notes the Chief Executive's willingness to accept and implement our recommendations for change demonstrates a commitment to improvement. More recently Lambeth has requested assistance to address its problems from the DWP funded expect help team. The
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expert help teams will be working with Lambeth to ensure that they have robust plans for achieving a significantly improved benefits service.
Inspectors found that Manchester City council provided a very poor service to claimants, particularly in the time taken to process new claims and changes of circumstances. Considerable backlogs of work had developed, although the report notes the council took steps to deal with the backlog and the situation improved.
The report notes some weaknesses in the verification of new claims and in renewal cases the council focused on ensuring that payment was made rather than making sure that the determination was correct.
Inspectors found weaknesses in the council's counter fraud strategy and concluded that the counter fraud team was under resourced. There were also weaknesses in the identification and classification of overpayments, and the recovery of overpayments was very poor.
However, the reports notes the council has said that it has made management and operational changes to address the weaknesses identified by the inspection, especially in work prioritisation, structure, communications and recruitment.
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However, there were several areas where the council was not providing a satisfactory or secure service. BFI considers many weaknesses were the result of a long standing backlog of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit work and a lack of good quality management information. Weaknesses included renewal claims not being dealt with promptly, benefit periods being incorrectly set and referrals to the Rent Officer being delayed.
The report notes the council has a prosecution policy but fails to adhere to it. Management and control of counter fraud work was weak, and inspectors found that the council was over-claiming weekly benefit savings.
Malcolm Wicks: The Department set out its strategy for tackling fraud and error in the paper--A new contract for welfare: Safeguarding Social Security (CM 4276)--published on 23 March 1999. The overall aim of the strategy is to have a benefit system which is secure from first claim to final payment.
The implementation of this strategy means that an anti-fraud focus is integral to the work of the Department, as is dealing with the wider agenda of error and incorrectness in benefit payments. It is therefore not possible to account for the cost of anti-fraud work separately.
Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if the checks made on continuing claims for benefit with respect to National Insurance are done through access to Inland Revenue records. 
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conducted by Benefits Agency staff on continuing claims to Income Support (IS) or Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA). Requests for verification are made either to the claimant for documentary evidence in the form of wage slips or pay statements or to the employer or pension provider directly with the claimant's consent. This provides written confirmation of gross pay, details of deductions for tax and National Insurance (NI) and net pay. Where there appears to be a discrepancy in the amount of deductions taken, further inquiries are made to the customer or employer/pension provider.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will set out his strategy for identifying those who have failed to claim their entitlement for Winter Fuel Payments in the winters of (a) 1997-98, (b) 1998-99 and (c) 1999-2000; and if he will set out the reasons for which a deadline was applied to claims for winter 2000-01. 
Mr. McCartney: An information campaign, beginning in April 2000, aimed to ensure that existing and potential customers were aware of the changes to the scheme and what, if any, action was required. It has included: advertisements in national and local press; a leaflet and poster, made available in a variety of venues, including local social security offices, post offices, supermarkets and doctors' surgeries; a dedicated Winter Fuel Payment Helpline; and information on the internet. A mailshot was also undertaken, beginning in early May 2000, to people we could identify as being newly eligible, with an invitation to make a claim.
The deadline imposed for winter 2000 payments allowed a period for claiming of almost a year from when the information campaign began, it is not unreasonable to assume that those who want to claim have claimed.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the value of unclaimed Winter Fuel Payments for the winter of 2000-01 and the number of entitled recipients who failed to claim their entitlement by the 31 March deadline. 
Mr. McCartney: We received and paid around 1.3 million Winter Fuel Payment claims for last winter. We estimated that up to 1.5 million people could have been eligible who would need to claim. Because this figure is an estimate, it is not possible to provide a reliable figure of either the value of unclaimed payments, or of those who did not claim.
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