HC Deb 20 June 2002 vol 387 c500W
Tony Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he will publish the inspection report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate in respect of Allerdale borough council. [64091]

Malcolm Wicks: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate's (BFI) report on Allerdale borough council was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

This follow up inspection report shows that since the first inspection in October 1999 the council had made substantial progress in most areas of administering benefits. However, further improvements were still needed in counter fraud and overpayment.

Allerdale had been struggling to bring work backlogs under control but the second inspection found work had been reduced to manageable levels through close management and monitoring of the situation.

A significant increase in the number of staff in housing benefit administration and the appointment of a senior fraud officer as well as a restructuring of the teams in line with BFI's first recommendations had brought about a major improvement.

In the fraud team, the long-term absence of a fraud officer had adversely affected the quantity and quality of investigations. BFI noted that the management was addressing the problems during the on-site phase of the inspection.

The first inspection had also recommended the appointment of an overpayment officer. The council had done this and taken other positive steps to managing overpayment better. The situation has improved but further improvements are necessary to, in particular, improve debt recovery.

Progress since the first inspection had been positively supported by greater involvement of Members and senior management in housing benefit administration and counter fraud work.

Allerdale administered some £19 million in housing benefits in 2000–01.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address weaknesses and to improve the administration of housing benefit and council tax benefit, as well as counter fraud activities.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.