HC Deb 19 October 1998 vol 317 cc947-8
10. Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

What plans he has for guaranteeing a minimum payment of (a) benefits generally and (b) housing benefit to claimants within 24 hours of the claim. [53480]

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

We are committed to modernising the system of delivering welfare so that it is flexible, efficient and easy to use. The Department deals with more than 20 benefits and there are more than 47 targets measuring performance on the clearance of new applications. Those targets are achieved in 90 per cent. of cases, but I recognise that, in some cases, delays are long and difficult to explain.

For housing and council tax benefits, local authorities are required by law to determine claims within 14 days of receipt of a properly completed claim form.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Minister examine the performance of the London borough of Southwark, which is delivering neither a modern nor an efficient housing benefit system? Some people wait not just for 14 days or a month but for a year, and there are tens of thousands of unprocessed housing benefit claims. Pensioners are receiving summonses for eviction, as are single parents with young children, and the whole system appears to be on the verge of complete collapse. Will the Minister investigate the situation and undertake to report on it publicly and to the House?

Angela Eagle

I am aware of the problems being experienced in Southwark. My officials have received a detailed report from the authority which confirms that there are delays. An action plan has been drawn up to clear the arrears of work that have been implemented. I have asked to receive reports from the authority so that progress on the action plan can be monitored by my officials. Southwark and the private contractors to whom it contracted the work are working together to improve the situation. I am told that the arrears of work have been reduced considerably and that the authority expects to make further progress on the work load until the situation returns to normal in November.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Given the Audit Commission's recent criticisms of local councils, will the Minister publish a list of the 50 worst offenders with regard to the non or late payment of housing benefit so that hon. Members on both sides of the House can see for themselves how many Labour local authorities are in the premier league of incompetence and mismanagement in this important area?

Angela Eagle

The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that most local authorities are Labour-controlled—the good and the bad.

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