Headlines: March 21st, 2003

The eight poorest performing local councils, which together pay out almost 200 million pounds a year in housing benefits, are to be examined by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate. The Housing Benefit Minister, Malcolm Wicks said he had asked for the councils to be inspected because, where authorities performed badly, it was the most vulnerable people in society who suffered and faced financial strains.The next programme of inspections will also include the benefit administration and counter-fraud activity at Barking and Dagenham, Bury, Isle of Wight, Knowsley, Milton Keynes, Portsmouth, Swindon, and Wokingham councils. The  Inspectorate will also offer specialist advice as part of its Performance Improvement Action Team programme to a further nine poorly performing authorities.

In addition BFI will inspect Redcar and Cleveland council which has consistently failed to provide quarterly management information to the Department for Work and Pensions, and there will be follow-up inspections at a number of other councils.

“Good performance in housing benefits can help in tackling poverty and providing opportunity. The BFI inspections are an important part of our welfare to work programme. They improve the effectiveness of the housing benefits system to encourage people to replace life on benefit by moving  into work,” Mr Wicks said.

As well as the full inspections, BFI will carry out Comprehensive Performance Assessments on the benefits services of 183 district councils in England and updates on the services provided by the 115 single-tier councils which were assessed last year. The Inspectorate will also be responsible for ten Best Value inspections in Scotland in association with Audit Scotland, and the assessment of benefits services for all 22 Welsh councils.

The BFI was set up in 1997 to inspect social security benefits administration and counter-fraud activity within the Department for Work  and Pensions, agencies and local authorities. Its findings are reported to the Secretary of State and its reports are published to promote good practice.