Headlines: October 2nd, 2001

A new independent study suggests that the Benefits Agency (BA) and local authorities need to improve the way they work together.The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate investigated the working relationship between local authorities and BA in order to identify where improvements could be made to cut down on fraud and error.

The report recommends better training for agency staff in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit issues, improving the recovery of Housing Benefit overpayments, and better checking of identities and more effective exchange of information with Local Authority counter-fraud staff.

It also calls for a higher profile to be given to closer working with local authorities.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Alistair Darling, says the BFI inquiry was carried out when a lot of work was just getting underway to improve relationships with local authorities.

In his foreward to the report, BFI Director Chris Bull says those changes should have a positive impact on counter fraud activity – especially the appointment of a Chief Investigation Officer and Head of Profession for counter fraud activity.

He says it will lead to clearer strategic direction and give closer working on counter fraud a higher priority.

The report also commends the introduction of BA’s Performance Improvement Action Teams to bring the performance of the weakest BA offices into line with the best.