§ The Minister for 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 Waveney District Council was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.
In its response to the Housing Green Paper of November 2000, the Department for Work and Pensions developed a performance framework for housing benefits. The "Performance Standards for housing benefits" allow local authorities to make a comprehensive self-assessment of whether they deliver benefit effectively and securely. They are the Standards that the Department for Work and Pensions expects local authorities to aspire to and achieve in time.
The BFI inspected Waveney Council against the Performance Standards. The report finds that the council is not at Standard for any of the seven functional areas of the Performance Standards—strategic management, customer services, processing of claims, working with landlords, internal security, counter-fraud, and overpayments.
The report finds that the council's overall level of performance for its administration of benefits and counter-fraud activity was poor, and identifies many significant and serious failings.
A lack of strategic vision and poor operational planning had hindered the council's ability to deliver an effective benefit service. This was clearly evident during 2001–02 with long delays in processing new and renewal benefit claims.
The council's processes, procedures and systems were inadequate to secure the benefit service from fraud and error.
However, the report finds enthusiasm and support for the benefit service from the council's senior officers and staff. Additional management posts had been created and new members of staff appointed to these key positions.
The council acknowledged that significant improvements in the administration of housing benefits were needed and that this is a key priority. The council has been very receptive to the inspection findings, implementing a number of minor changes and introducing new procedures to improve the benefit service during the on-site phase of the inspection.
In 2001–02, Waveney District Council administered some £28 million in housing benefits, about 44 per cent. of its total gross revenue expenditure.38WS
The report makes recommendations to help the council address 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.