Headlines: October 18th, 1999

Criticism of councils by Social Security Minister Angela Eagle for poor performance in paying Housing and Council Tax Benefits has caused tension in the welfare partnership between central and local government. Her claim that in far too many cases people claiming benefits receive a slow and inefficient service is not in doubt. Her less than frank analysis of the problem is causing irritation.Ministerial promises of a simplified Housing Benefit system have not been delivered and the focus has moved from simplification to fraud reduction. With a target to reduce all benefit fraud by 30% in 5 years attention has been concentrated on tightening the procedures for processing claims, including a requirement to produce additional documentary evidence. Last year 80 changes to the system were issued by the Department for Social Security, some of which required software changes. In addition, the promise to provide remote access terminals to all councils to allow them to view the Jobseekers Allowance and Income Support databases is behind schedule.

The longer term solution is provide a one stop shop for benefit claimants where they can get access to information on work, benefits and other services. This new service, which has been given the label ‘One’, is being piloted in four areas, with a further eight pilots going live in November.The private and voluntary sectors will take part in the later pilots and there will be keen interest to see how well they perform.