Headlines: January 20th, 2005

Local authorities have been warned that they will face investigation by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate if they fail to measure up to certain standards in administering benefit payments. Anti-Fraud Minister Chris Pond has announced that the BFI is to concentrate its efforts on councils who perform poorly in three specific areas.Inspections will be carried out in authorities that take much longer than the target of 36 days to process new claims, those that are seen to be weak in countering fraud and councils where there is evidence of a poor record of administering overpayments.

The Minister said paying the right amount of housing benefits to the right person at the right time was hugely important and reducing fraud and error was essential given that 15 billion pounds was being paid out annually. Not only was prompt payment of housing benefits crucial to more than four million vulnerable people, but delays in processing claims could deter people from moving into work. For those reasons, he said, the next programme of BFI inspections would be concentrated on councils that had weaknesses in specific areas of benefits administration.

“Many councils are improving in paying benefits accurately and on time to the people that need them and that is very encouraging, but there are still too many that urgently need to improve their performance,” he said.

Seven local authorities are to undergo shorter focused inspections because they take longer than the national average time to process claims. They are Dacorum Borough, South Ayrshire, Inverclyde, North Wiltshire, Boston Borough, East Dunbartonshire and Perth and Kinross Council. Three other authorities are facing focused inspections of their counter-fraud arrangements – Falkirk, West Dunbartonshire and Brentwood Borough Council. Focused inspections of controls to prevent overpayment will be carried out at Aberdeen City and Tandridge District councils.

Three more local authorities will have to undergo full inspections after their recent Comprehensive Performance Assessment showed them as only fair. They are Great Yarmouth and Slough borough councils and Malvern Hills District. In Wales there will be a full inspection in Bridgend County Borough, because it was judged to be at risk in the Wales Programme for Improvement.