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Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Phil Hope: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Kirklees metropolitan council. [46216]

Malcolm Wicks: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate's second report on Kirklees metropolitan council was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The BFI first inspected and published a report on the performance of Kirklees metropolitan council on 29 May 1999. It found that the council was performing poorly. Following publication of this first report, the council accepted the recommendations and drew up an action plan to improve performance. BFI's second report finds that Kirklees has largely failed to implement its own action plan and has not fully addressed any of the major recommendations included in the first BFI report. Inspectors consider that the council's performance in administering benefit and countering benefit fraud has got worse since the first inspection.

Poor performance was identified in many areas of benefit administration. A failure to improve the verification of benefit claims; no improvement on previously slow processing times for new and renewal claims; a deterioration of procedure for dealing with the

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overpayment of benefit; and a lack of supervisory management were all reported by inspectors. At the time of the inspection there was a backlog of around 7,000 cases awaiting assessment and 65,000 documents awaiting filing.

On counter fraud work, the report notes failures by the council to introduce and implement a counter fraud strategy and to introduce and implement a prosecution policy. There was also increased potential for internal fraud, fewer fraud staff and a lack of management within the counter fraud teams.

The BFI considers that Kirklees metropolitan council's inadequate response to the findings of the first inspection casts grave doubts on its commitment to provide an efficient and secure benefits system.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of housing benefit and council tax benefit, as well as counter fraud activities.

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.

Housing Benefit

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he plans to implement the recommendations on housing benefit reforms set out in the Housing Green Paper, "Quality and Choice: A decent home for all". [32620]

Malcolm Wicks: We have a three-stage strategy for reforming housing benefit and dealing with the legacy of neglect we have inherited. The first stage, which is now well under way, is to radically improve HB administration and bear down on fraud.

The HB help team is working in partnership with local authorities to support them in improving the administration of HB. We are already seeing real improvements in administration as a result of the team's work and the on-going programme of inspections by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate. We also want to help more authorities deliver a high standard of HB service by sharing good practice. We are developing a dedicated website to do so and we plan to make available shortly on CD a "toolkit" which the help team has developed.

In April we will publish performance standards for the full range of HB administration. These standards offer local authorities practical guidance on effective and secure administration of benefit. Local authorities will be able to self-assess their performance against standards.

We have already increased HB administration subsidy for the year 2001–02 to £166 million, in 2002–03 it will increase to £170 million and to £174 million in 2003–04. This three-year settlement provides local authorities with stability, enabling them to plan more effectively for the future administration of HB and council tax benefit.

With the introduction of the pension credit, we are removing the need to reclaim HB every year for pensioners aged 65 and over. For those over 65, we will be making awards for five years. The HB income threshold will also be raised by the maximum amount of

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the pension credit savings reward, to an expected level of £113.80 for single pensioners in 2003 and we will treat pensioners' capital more generously.

Introduced nationally from April 2002, our new anti-fraud incentive scheme, puts more emphasis on prevention of fraud, as well as its detection. And we are working to get an accurate and robust measurement of fraud in the system, through the HB reviews begun last April. In time we expect to gain sufficiently reliable information from the reviews of the level of loss in the system to be able to measure progress against an agreed target.

The second stage, which is already beginning, is to restructure rents. This is an essential prerequisite to the third stage of reform, instituting fundamental changes to the structure of HB. Fundamental reform of HB has to be built on the platform of the first two stages if it is to succeed, as was clearly set out in the Housing Green Paper.

Relocation Expenses

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his policy is on the payment of relocation expenses to staff in his Department. [41023]

Maria Eagle: Relocation expenses are available to DWP staff in the event of a compulsory and permanent transfer which necessitates a move of home. In determining whether these expenses are available to individual staff, alternative options such as local recruitment or redeployment are considered first to ensure that these transfers are cost effective.

The financial assistance available would normally cover all necessary legal, removals and estate agents' costs. Assistance from a specialist relocation company in marketing homes is also available. On-going assistance may also be forthcoming if a member of staff relocates to a dearer housing, as determined by the use of Valuation Office data, resulting in increased housing costs. All new housing costs are closely compared to those at the original home to ensure that comparable property types are used. These expenses and controls are in line with the central guidance in section 8 of the Civil Service Management Code.

Employment (Disabled People)

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many (a) private companies, (b) charitable and voluntary and (c) public sector organisations based in the Buckingham constituency have adopted the two ticks symbol. [43296]

Maria Eagle: Employers who wish to apply for two ticks status are assessed by our disability employment advisers. The two ticks disability symbol helps employers show that they are committed to employing people with disabilities, and also helps people with disabilities to identify which employers have a positive attitude to their abilities.

The information requested is in the table.

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Organisations in the Buckingham parliamentary constituency using the two ticks disability symbol

Type of organisationNumber
Private sector companies4
Charitable and voluntary organisations0
Public sector organisations2

Age Discrimination

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to his answer of 4 March 2002, Official Report, column 28W, on age discrimination, how much money has been allocated to the Age Positive Campaign; how many (a) companies, (b) academic institutions and (c) research or lobby organisations have signed up to the campaign; how many workers are employed by the companies that have signed up to the campaign; how many companies expect to sign up to the campaign; how he monitors organisations that have signed up to comply with the campaign; how many people are employed to monitor organisations that have signed to comply with the campaign; and how many companies have been removed from the Age Positive Campaign after being found to be not maintaining the campaign's code. [41842]

Maria Eagle [holding answer 12 March 2002]: The Age Positive budget for 2001–02 is £1 million and is used to develop and promote the business case for non-ageist employment practices to all employers and individuals across Great Britain.

Those who wish to actively support the Age Positive campaign do not formally sign up to it. They are encouraged to provide positive case studies and may apply to become age positive champions. To become an age positive champion, a potential applicant must submit strong evidence of commitment to age positive practice. Officials of this Department vet applications from potential champions.

Organisations that do not have in place a wide enough range of age positive practices to be accepted as champions are still often able to provide useful case studies illustrating particular age positive aspects of their employment policies. Age positive champions play a vital role in the campaign. By promoting their own best practice and highlighting the practical business benefits of a mixed age workforce they encourage other employers and individuals to tackle age discrimination in the workplace. There are currently 32 age positive champions and around 50 case studies, although both figures are steadily increasing. The newest feature of the campaign is the age positive website

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