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Rutland County Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on Rutland county council was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

Following the housing Green Paper "Quality and Choice: A Decent Home for All", published in April 2000, the Department for Work and Pensions developed a performance framework for housing benefits. The "Performance Standards for Housing
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Benefits" allow local authorities to make a comprehensive self-assessment of whether they deliver benefit effectively and securely. They are the standards that the Department for Work and Pensions expects local authorities to aspire to and achieve in time.

In 2002–03, Rutland county council administered some £3.72 million in housing benefits, about 12 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure.

In June 2004 BFI carried out an inspection of Rutland county council and, although it was performing well in a number of elements of performance standards, it was not at standard in any of the seven functional areas.

BFI found the council to be providing a fair service. There was a strong commitment at all levels within the council to provide an efficient benefits service and a high proportion of customers expressed satisfaction with the service provided.

The report notes that there were some strengths in the council's benefits service including clear and accessible claim forms, clear informative decision letters and effective internal security practices.

The average time taken to process new claims was 19 days against the standard of 36 days and 90 per cent. of new claims were processed within 14 days of receiving all information. Verification of evidence supporting benefit claims was good. However, at the time of BFI's inspection, there was no management checking.

The council identified and calculated benefit overpayments quickly but BFI considered that it needed to improve the accuracy of its management information and use all the recovery methods available to it.

The inspection was prompted by the council's failure to give any priority to countering benefit fraud. In June 2004, the council started to address its responsibilities to fight benefit fraud with the creation of a dedicated counter-fraud team.

BFI reports the council has been receptive to the findings in the report and implemented a number of changes immediately.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address weaknesses and to further 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 BFI's findings and recommendations.