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Written Statements

Monday 31 October 2005


 
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Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Report: Aberdeen City Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on Aberdeen City Council was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.

In 2004–05, Aberdeen City Council administered some £49 million in housing benefits, about 9 per cent of its gross revenue expenditure. The inspection covered Aberdeen City Council's administration of overpayments.

The council displayed many strengths including: an excellent quality checking regime; 90 per cent correct classification of overpayments; calculating overpayments correctly, within 14 days; correctly deciding whom overpayments should be recovered from; and a good audit trail.

More could be done to recover large debts from housing associations and improvements were needed in the control of overpayments work and the council's write-off procedures.

The council is working with BFI's performance development team to improve its action plan to recover overpayments.

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

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Report: Dacorum Borough Council

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on Dacorum Borough Council was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.

In 2004–05, Dacorum Borough Council administered some £29.5 million in housing benefits, about 24.5 per cent of its gross revenue expenditure.

In 2004–05 the council was taking an average of 63 days to process new claims for housing benefit and council tax benefit and had significant backlogs of
 
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work. The introduction of a new benefits IT system in 2003 and the absence of expert full-time staff had caused problems and the backlogs and underlying reasons for them were never fully addressed. Effective recruitment since late 2004 has led to improvements and the average processing time for new claims was 42 days for the first quarter of 2005–06 and the backlogs are now cleared.

Good practices included adopting the department's verification framework from April 2005, monitoring workflow, and prioritising changes of circumstances to reduce overpayments. However, processing changes of circumstances deteriorated from an average of 14 days in 2004–05 to 25 days in the first quarter of 2005–06.

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

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Report: Perth and Kinross Council

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on Perth and Kinross Council was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.

In 2004–05, Perth and Kinross Council administered some £24 million in housing benefits, about 11.6 per cent of its gross revenue expenditure. The council had made significant improvements in the time taken to process new claims from 71 days in the second quarter of 2004–05 to 48 days by the end of 2004–05. However, this was still within the bottom quartile of performance for all councils.

Delays were occurring at all stages of the claims process. These were most significant in registering claims, identifying the need for further information and referring appropriate cases to the rent officer within statutory time limits.

Inaccurate performance was being reported against the statutory performance indicator for the speed of processing changes of circumstances. The council was reporting an average of eight days to process a change yet the findings from a sample of cases showed that it was taking an average of 26.5 days.

Quality issues were identified in 30 per cent of the cases sampled. Benefit had been paid on incomplete claim forms, incorrect dates had been used resulting in underpayment of benefit, and requests for backdating had been overlooked.

Inadequate control and poor monitoring of performance meant that members and senior officers had insufficient assurance about true levels of performance. This was compounded by a failure to implement audit recommendations.
 
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Further assurance and internal security issues were found in the quality of verification, post opening arrangements, recruitment and vetting of benefits staff, procedural guidance and management checking.

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

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Report: Tandridge District Council

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on Tandridge District Council was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.

In 2004–05, Tandridge District Council administered some £11 million in housing benefits, about 28 per cent of its gross revenue expenditure. In June 2005, BFI carried out an inspection on Tandridge District Council's administration of overpayments.

Inspectors found there was a great deal of commitment and professionalism in the council's efforts to administer overpayments, together with a determination to improve performance. Good practices enabled the council to recover 16 per cent of outstanding overpayment debts in the first quarter of 2005–06 alone.

However, the council did not always use the correct effective date when calculating overpayments, and some claims could have been suspended more promptly to limit overpayments. Decision letters to benefit customers need to be improved, as they did not always indicate when overpayments were recoverable.

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

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Report: Wansbeck District Council

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On behalf of my right honourable 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.
 
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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 knowledge of housing benefit and council tax benefit procedures so more inquiries could be answered at the first point of contact and to 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.

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 honourable friend the Secretary of State is considering the report and may ask the council for proposals in response to BFI's findings.


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