Headlines: September 6th, 2005

The Benefits Fraud Inspectorate is to focus on local authorities that take too long to process claims and that it believes are doing too little to tackle fraudsters. The BFI’s latest programme will concentrate on councils that take more than seven weeks to process new claims for Housing Benefit and those that did not successfully prosecute many fraudsters during 2004-5.Seven authorities – Braintree District, Fenland District, Isle of Anglesey County, Manchester City, Thurrock Borough and the London boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets – will face inspections because they take longer to process claims. St. Edmundsbury Borough Council, which failed to send performance data to the Department for Work and Pensions will also be inspected to determine its performance in processing claims and its customer service.

The move also means that 12 councils face inspections of their security and counter-fraud arrangements. They are Bath and North East Somerset, Durham City, East Lothian, Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough, Hastings Borough, Highland, Leicester City, Neath and Port Talbot County Borough, Newport City, North East Derbyshire District, Rother District and Woking Borough councils.

James Plaskitt, the Minister with responsibility for Housing Benefit and countering fraud said many people were being let down by slow benefits services, which caused uncertainty and could put people off moving into work.

He added, “Councils have a duty to safeguard the system against fraudsters as well as to improve their services to customers. I am concerned that some councils do too little to penalise and deter fraudsters and in comparison to their caseload have applied a small number of sanctions including successful prosecutions in 2004-05.”

The Inspectorate operates as an independent unit within the Department for Work and Pensions and reports directly to the Secretary of State on the standard of benefits administration and counter-fraud activity in local councils and the Department itself.