HC Deb 08 June 1999 vol 332 cc302-3W
Mr. Rendel

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what interim conclusions have been reached by the Housing Benefit verification pilot projects; and if he will make a statement; [85640]

(2) what emergency provisions exist for claimants and their partners (a) who do not have a National Insurance number and (b) whose identity cannot be confirmed to replace Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit under the Housing Benefit verification pilot schemes; [85642]

(3) when he will publish (a) the statistics collected under and (b) the final results and conclusions of the Housing Benefit verification pilot projects relating to National Insurance numbers; [85639]

(4) what is the length of time currently taken to process DCI1LA forms for (a) children leaving care and (b) people from abroad; [85641]

(5) what discretionary powers Benefits Agency staff have when trying to establish the identity of individuals who are unable to supply documents in the Housing Benefit verification pilots. [85645]

Angela Eagle

Section 19 of the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Act 1997 requires individuals to provide, as a qualifying condition of benefit, a National Insurance number in respect of themselves and their partner. Since 12 April, the extension of this provision to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit has been piloted in seven local authorities. This provides an opportunity to test procedures and information about volumes and costs to prepare for national implementation on 6 September.

Early indications from the pilot are that virtually all claimants have been able, and are willing, to produce satisfactory evidence of their identity and proof of their National Insurance number. Consequently, there has been very little call on the Benefits Agency to trace or allocate National Insurance numbers. Of the few DCI1LA forms sent some relate to people from abroad but none have so far been sent in respect of children leaving care. There are no undue delays in DCI1LA forms being processed. However, this would have no adverse effect on claimants anyway as Section 19 will have been satisfied, and benefit paid, once sufficient information or evidence has been provided to enable a National Insurance number to be traced or allocated. Any individual who does not yet have a National Insurance number will be allocated one once he has furnished this information or evidence.

The procedures used by local authorities to establish identity will apply the same standards to those currently operated by the Benefits Agency. Where an individual is unable to provide satisfactory documentary evidence of their identity every effort will be made to establish and corroborate their personal history by means of an interview.

Statistics are currently being collected on the pilot and these, together with the final results and conclusions from the pilot, will be available in late August.

Mr. Rendel

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security in cases where there is an over payment of housing benefit which cannot be reclaimed from the recipient, from which organisation's budget the overpayment is deducted once it is detected. [85643]

Angela Eagle

The majority of Housing Benefit overpayments are recoverable, although it is for local authorities to choose whether to do so. The Department pays differing levels of direct subsidy to local authorities, from nil to 95 per cent., depending on the cause of the overpayment. If the error is due to this Department or to a Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) official error, full subsidy is paid on any unrecovered benefit. However, if the overpayment arises due to an official error by the local authority, nil subsidy is payable and the local authority has to bear the cost of any unrecovered benefit. In all other cases, including fraud, some subsidy is paid and the local authority can retain any monies recovered. With the exception of monies recovered in respect of this Department or DfEE official error, no adjustment to subsidy is made to reflect any amount recovered.

Different subsidy arrangements apply in England and Wales where Housing Benefit is paid to local authorities' own tenants, and are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Secretary of State for Wales.

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