§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)
On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on the Council of the Isles of Scilly was published today and copies of the report have been placed in the Library
Following the housing Green Paper "Quality and Choice: A Decent Home for All", published in April 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.
In 2001–02, the Council of the Isles of Scilly administered some £96,000 in housing benefits, about 2.5 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure.
BFI inspected the Council of the Isles of Scilly against the performance standards for housing benefits, and concludes that the council's benefits service had not reached standard in any of the seven functional areas—strategic management, customer services, processing of claims, working with landlords, internal security, counter-fraud and overpayments.
The inspection was prompted by the council's failure, over several years, to provide its quarterly performance management information to the Department for Work and Pensions.
The council is the smallest in England with an average housing benefit and council tax benefit caseload of 60 cases. The report finds that although the council complied with some elements of the performance standards there were few formal policies and procedures in place, and no formal management checking was undertaken.
There was a strong commitment at all levels within the council to provide an efficient and effective benefits service and a high proportion of customers expressed satisfaction with the service provided. The council met the 36-days performance standard for processing new benefit claims.
At the time of the inspection, the council had just entered into a temporary partnership arrangement with the neighbouring Penwith district council to provide a more effective benefits service.
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 BFI's findings and recommendations.