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The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alastair Darling): British Transport Police carries out an important role in maintaining the security of the railways and in deterring potential terrorist activity. The excellent work that it does was shown in the events in London on 7 and 21 July.
Following discussion with the BTP Chief Constable, and in the context of the current review of the 43 local police forces being undertaken by the Home Secretary, I will be reviewing the role of the British Transport
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Police. My review will examine the functions of the British Transport Police and whether some or all of these are best carried out by a national force, regional forces or, indeed, by the industry itself. This review is aimed at ensuring that policing of the railways is fit for the 21st century.
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 Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on East Dunbartonshire council was published on 11 August 2005 and is available in the Library.
In 200405, East Dunbartonshire council administered some £48 million in housing benefits, about 31 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure. The council was selected for a focused inspection of claims administration because it reported that it was taking 92 days to process new claims for the quarter ending 30 September 2004.
BFI found that the council did not meet any of the performance standards relating to claims processing, but the sample of cases that BFI examined showed that it was processing new claims in an average of 42 days against the standard of 36. The figure of 92 days that the council had been reporting was wrong because the council had made errors in processing and data input, leading to overstatements of the time taken to process claims. Existing arrangements to monitor the delivery of targets and plans do not provide sufficient assurance about the levels of performance actually being achieved.
The council's claim form did not meet the requirements of the Department's HCTB1 claim form. The council had adopted the Department's Verification Framework but to comply with the framework improvements need to be made.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on Caerphilly county borough council was published on 11 August 2005 and is available in the Library.
In 200304, Caerphilly county borough council administered some £41 million in housing benefits, about 18 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure.
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Overall, the inspection found that the council was performing to a fair standard in housing benefit and council tax benefit administration and counter-fraud activities. While there were some strengths it did not meet any of the seven functional areas of performance standards. The council had not implemented some significant recommendations made in BFI's first inspection report published in November 2002 even though internal and external audit had repeated those recommendations.
Although the council was reporting times for its processing of new claims that put it in the top quartile, procedural errors meant that the council was paying claims before all the necessary evidence had been obtained from the customer.
The council recovered a high proportion of overpayments, but the findings showed procedural errors that meant that recoveries were being made from the wrong person and at the wrong rates. The council did not prioritise the recovery of fraud overpayments.
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 Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) announced its phase 13 programme of work on 5 September 2005.
Many local authority customers are let down by slow benefits services and some authorities do not seem to be tackling fraud rigorously. BFI will be undertaking seven inspections of local authorities taking longer than seven weeks on average to process housing benefits claims. The authorities are Braintree district council, Fenland district council, Isle of Anglesey county council, London Borough of Newham, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Manchester city council, and Thurrock borough council.
It is important to deter fraudsters by applying sanctions, including prosecutions; therefore BFI will inspect 12 authorities that in comparison with their caseload have applied few sanctions, including successful prosecutions. The authorities are Bath and North East Somerset, Durham city council, East
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Lothian council, Ellesmere Port and Neston borough council, Hastings borough council, Highland council, Leicester city council, Neath and Port Talbot county borough council, Newport city council, North East Derbyshire district council, Rother district council and Woking borough council.
BFI is an independent unit within the Department for Work and Pensions that inspects and reports directly to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the standard of benefits administration and counter-fraud activity in local authorities and the Department itself.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt): On behalf my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI), inspection report on Uttlesford district council was published on 11 August 2005 and is available in the Library.
In 200405, Uttlesford district council administered some £10.7 million in housing benefits, about 33 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure. The council's commitment to combat fraud was commendable. Administrative penalties were recovered efficiently and all successful prosecutions were given publicity in order to deter potential fraudsters.
The council had, however, misinterpreted the rules governing the security against fraud and error (SAFE) scheme. This had resulted in a higher value of rewards being claimed than was due. Although the standard of interviews under caution was high and all relevant legislation was followed, BFI found that in the majority of cases where a formal caution had been administered a full admission of guilt had not been obtained from the customer. The anti-fraud team had no service plan and the only target that it worked towards was a monetary target for claimed SAFE rewards. BFI recommended that a broader range of targets covering quality and joint working should be introduced and that case reviews, management checks and the process for deciding which sanction to apply all needed to be formalised.