HC Deb 06 December 1999 vol 340 cc371-2W
Mr. Hoyle

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to ensure that local authorities carry out adequate checks on housing benefit claimants in order to reduce the amount of bogus claims. [101419]

Mr. Rooker

We inherited a flawed system which placed far too much emphasis on the detection of fraud once it had occurred. Working in partnership with local authorities, we are transforming the delivery of Housing Benefit by emphasising the importance of getting it right to begin with and keeping it right during the life of a claim.

We are financing local authorities to focus on both the prevention and detection of fraud with the introduction of the Verification Framework. The Framework specifies the evidence which must be verified before a claim can be paid and sets out the checks which must be made during the life of a claim. We have made £100 million available to allow all local authorities to implement this important new initiative. So far, we have funded the implementation of the Framework in 223 local authorities. We want all local authorities to adopt the high standards set by the Framework and we have embarked on a programme to increase its take up, particularly among the highest spending authorities.

From 6 September 1999, with the application of Section 19 of the Fraud Act, all new claims for Housing Benefit are subject to tough new identity checks to ensure that all claimants can be linked with the appropriate National Insurance number.

As part of our strategy to ensure that local authorities have in place arrangements for the secure and accurate administration of Housing Benefit, we have instructed the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate to focus their attention on the 30 largest local authorities who between them account for almost a third of the total expenditure on Housing and Council Tax Benefit. These authorities will have been inspected or revisited by the summer of next year and a report will be published with recommendations on each authority which we will follow up. This will allow us to measure their progress in the fight against fraud.

We have also made good progress in preventing the significant amount of fraud which occurs when fraudsters make false claims and then redirect benefit mail from addresses at which they are not resident. The Royal Mail Do Not Redirect scheme was introduced nationally from 1 February this year and will stop the redirection of appropriately marked benefit mail. To date, over 200 local authorities have taken up this initiative and we are aiming that all authorities will adopt this service.

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