HC Deb 21 January 2003 vol 398 cc6-7WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on Rotherham metropolitan borough council was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The BFI undertook a first inspection of Rotherham metropolitan borough council in October 1999, and the report was extremely critical of the council's housing benefits service.

This follow-up report finds that the council has failed to implement the majority of the BFI main recommendations from the first inspection. The council has not implemented a prosecution policy and no sanctions have been applied. There is still no management-checking regime and the council has failed to introduce the verification framework despite having plans to do so after our first inspection.

While there are some improvements in overpayment work, the lack of management information meant that BFI could not report in any detail on this area.

The council has developed an action plan for improvement. It has also completed a performance standards self-assessment of all areas and drafted a prosecution policy, which has been approved by Members. However, the council's track record raises doubts as to whether improvement will be achieved within a reasonable timescale.

In 2001–02, Rotherham metropolitan borough council administered approximately £56.5 million in housing benefits. This is approximately 13 per cent of its total gross revenue expenditure.

The report makes recommendations to help the council address the remaining weaknesses and to further 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.