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Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (Wansbeck 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 Wansbeck District Council was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.

In 2004–05 Wansbeck District Council administered some £15 million in housing benefits, about 49.5 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure. The council's overall performance in administering housing benefit and council tax benefit met minimum requirements.

Strengths included the speedy processing of new claims and good access for customers at six "Infopoints". Infopoints had been developed through consultation with local communities and were in locations that best supported local people. More training for Infopoint staff was needed to improve their
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knowledge of housing benefit and council tax benefit procedures so more enquiries could be answered at the first point of contact and ensure that claim forms had been correctly completed.

There were shortcomings in other key areas. The Verification Framework had not been fully introduced; there was little effective use of management information and limited management control of counter-fraud investigation activity. There were significant delays in the identification and processing of requests for reconsideration and appeals. These need to be better monitored and controlled.
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Communication with landlords was ineffective. There was no liaison forum and landlords had not been informed of legislative changes.

Counter-fraud investigations had not always been carried out in accordance with legislation or Departmental guidance. An IT system has been used since April 2004 to help with the classification and recovery of overpayment debt but much old debt remains unrecovered.

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