HC Deb 19 April 1999 vol 329 cc567-8
25. Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

What plans he has to improve co"ordination between the Benefits Agency and local authorities in combating fraud. [79753]

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Mr. Stephen Timms)

By working in partnership, councils and the Benefits Agency can fight fraud more effectively, as well as give a better service to the public. That is why we have earmarked funding in each Benefits Agency area to develop stronger links with local councils. Detailed agreements are in place which give each party a clear statement of how co-operation should work in practice. We are installing terminals in council offices to give access to Department of Social Security computers.

Ms Stuart

I thank the Minister for that answer. Can he tell me whether any councils have already applied to use the powers which were given to them in February, to ask the Royal Mail not to redirect housing benefit, and whether the Department will monitor the success of the scheme?

Mr. Timms

Yes. We certainly will monitor the success of the scheme. I do not have the information in front of me to enable me to tell the House how many local authorities so far have taken up the power to which my hon. Friend has referred. The power was introduced in sections 20 and 21 of the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Act 1997, to prevent fraudulent claimants using the Royal Mail's postal redirection arrangements to submit benefit claims from false addresses. It is clearly in everybody's interest that that practice ceases, and we would like to see the power taken up widely. I should tell my hon. Friend that it is possible to data-match our systems and local authority systems with those of the Royal Mail redirection database so that we can see where redirection is taking place and intervene if it is not appropriate.