Headlines: January 28th, 2003

In a move to shift the focus of service delivery away from the provider and towards the customer, a pilot to join up local councils and Jobcentre Plus has been launched. Jobcentre Plus staff in Calderdale and Kirklees, Buckinghamshire and Gateshead and South Tyneside will collect information and verify new claims for Housing and Council Tax Benefit at the same time that they deal with applications for Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support and Incapacity Benefit. This will remove the need for claimants to answer the same questions twice.The pilot supports the drive to provide a single seamless benefit service, but there is uncertainty about how effective it will be in practice. Jobcentre Plus staff have no knowledge of Housing Benefit and cutting out the expertise of the staff in council offices may lead to increased fraud. Because of the fraud risk, council office staff may be reluctant to accept claims verified elsewhere. It is also unclear whether moving the responsibility for verification will actually speed up the processing of claims overall.