HC Deb 16 November 1998 vol 319 cc596-7
6. Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

What proposals he has for the future of housing benefit. [58371]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle)

We are taking forward a wide-ranging review of housing benefit in consultation with local authorities and other interested parties. This review will aim to simplify and improve both the benefit itself and the way in which it is delivered. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced an improvement to the extended payments scheme to make the transition into work easier for housing benefit claimants who are unemployed.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What is the Government's estimate of the cost to the taxpayer of landlord fraud perpetrated on the housing benefit system? Can my hon. Friend tell us how many landlords have been successfully prosecuted for such fraud?

Angela Eagle

The Government's estimates of the extent of landlord fraud range from £100 million to £150 million. Unfortunately, we do not collect figures for fraud prosecutions by type, so I cannot answer my hon. Friend's second inquiry.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

Following the revelations of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), is it not an open secret that when decisions are eventually taken on this matter—or, more likely, when the Government definitively run away from them—as with all the other decisions on which we are waiting for them to pronounce, such as welfare reform and pensions, they are determined not by the Department of Social Security but by the Treasury and the No. 10 policy unit? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer a simple and, for him, fundamental question: if the Benefits Agency and, in the case of housing benefit, local authorities, have the job of handing out the money, and if policy decisions in Whitehall are taken by the Treasury or No. 10, what is the point of having a DSS at all?

Angela Eagle

First, I should like to point out that I am an hon. Lady, not an hon. Gentleman—in case the hon. Gentleman did not know.

The simplification project that we are carrying out with local authorities is seriously intended to make housing benefit simpler to administer and easier to understand. Delays and complexities in housing benefit are major barriers that prevent people from entering work, and we are determined to tackle them.