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Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Report on North Wiltshire District Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on North Wiltshire district council was published on 22 September 2005 and is available in the Library.

In 2004–05, North Wiltshire district council administered some £19.6 million in housing benefits, about 40 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure. The council was chosen for a focused inspection because it reported that it was taking 123 days on average to process new claims for benefit for the quarter ended 31 December 2004. This level of performance was in the bottom quartile of all reported performance. However, because of long term IT problems, the Department had granted the council exemption from completion of quarterly management information returns from January 2005.

The loss of a number of experienced staff during the early part of 2004–05 put further pressure on the service and led to a backlog of claims. This was cleared in January 2005 when the old IT system was closed down, but data conversion problems meant that when the new benefits IT system went live in March 2005, a further backlog existed. Despite continuing IT problems, the council were working hard to clear a backlog of benefit cases and, if the backlog is excluded, the council were clearing new claims within the DWP standard of 36 days. The standard of verification of claims was good.
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Management reports and performance monitoring systems were being developed as the council was becoming more familiar with its new IT system. However, these management controls need to be linked to systematic management checking and individual and team targets to ensure that the performance improvements are sustained.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the report and may ask the council for its proposals in response to BFFs findings.

Principles of Welfare Reform

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. David Blunkett):

Today we publish the Department's principles of welfare reform, which contain the values and principles which shape the Government's vision of the future welfare state. A copy has been placed in the Library, and copies are available to hon. Members in the Vote Office.

Our values of equality, opportunity, fairness and social justice underpin these principles. We have already moved away from a passive social security system which could be caricatured as encouraging welfare dependency. The next stage of welfare reform will be designed not only to help people to return to work, but also progress in work.

The Government will help people achieve success for themselves and their families by building the necessary skills and assets for future personal security. It will provide support, nationally and locally, and help individuals fulfil their potential.

Our core principles are to:

The foundations we help build will widen economic opportunity, support improvement in productivity and prosperity, and assist with continuing economic growth and social inclusion.