Headlines: February 25th, 2005

The cost of fraud and errors in the Housing Benefit system has fallen by about 60 million pounds according to new figures from the Department for Work and Pensions. It is now pushing for the last few local councils that have not signed up to the Verification Framework for benefits to do so.Latest estimates show roughly 600 million pounds of Housing Benefit was overpaid from April 2003 to March 2004, representing 4.9 per cent of the total expenditure. In the previous year around 700 million pounds was overpaid. The figures are rounded to the nearest 50 million, putting the actual difference between the amounts for the two years at the 60 million level.

Anti-Fraud Minister Chris Pond said he was aware there had been further improvements in preventing, detecting and deterring fraud since the period covered by the figures, including the expansion of data-matching, which was detecting fraud and errors sooner. There had been a 25 per cent reduction in the average value of detected overpayments and a 45 per cent increase over the last recorded year in the number of benefit fraud sanctions and prosecutions carried out by local authorities.

Mr. Pond said the DWP wanted to work with local authorities to ensure there was 100 per cent coverage of the Verification Framework by March 2006. Only 19 out of 408 local authorities have not joined or applied for funding to implement the voluntary system that sets out for local authorities the information that must be collected and verified before benefit is paid. It specifies minimum standards of evidence and the checks that must be made during the life of any claim.

The minister said he was confident there would be further falls in fraud and overpayments by March next year. “Our efforts in the future will focus on building on what Housing Benefit fraud investigators have achieved so far, having an effective criminal investigation structure for fraud and strong controls on day-to-day processing of benefit claims,” he added.