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ALLERDALE MAKES 'SUBSTANTIAL IMPROVEMENTS' IN COMBATTING BENEFIT FRAUD

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BENEFIT FRAUD INSPECTORATE REPORT: ALLERDALE BOROUGH COUNCIL ...
BENEFIT FRAUD INSPECTORATE REPORT: ALLERDALE BOROUGH COUNCIL

A report by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate on the

administration of housing benefit and council tax benefit and counter

fraud activity by Allerdale BC was published today.

BFI first inspected the council in October 1999 and found weaknesses

throughout the benefits administration and counter fraud work.

Following publication of the report the council set up a benefits

working group to oversee and monitor the strategy and implementation

of the BFI's recommendations.

This follow up inspection report finds that the council has made

substantial progress in most areas of work, fully implementing 56

action points and partially implementing another 17 action points out

of a total of 85. Further improvements were still needed in counter

fraud and overpayments.

The improvements were due largely to a significant increase in the

number of staff, restructuring of the teams within the benefit

section, and improved liaison with other organisations. Progress had

been positively supported by greater involvement of elected members

and senior management.

The council had been struggling to overcome backlogs of work but the

second inspection found that outstanding work had been reduced to

manageable levels through close management and monitoring of the

situation.

There had been an improvement in the quality of verification and

evidence requested to support claims to housing benefits although

visiting officers needed more support in the form of a visiting

strategy, documented guidance, targets and training.

The council had amended its claim form since the first inspection,

bringing it in line with the BFI's model claim form and tailoring it

to meet local needs. It had also stopped using a shortened claim form

for renewal claims. Verification on renewal claims had improved

substantially.

There had been an increase in the number of complaints. In 2000/01,

43% of the formal complaints received by the council (63) related to

housing benefits. Reasons for the increase were: increased evidence

requirements to verify claims which can result in longer processing

times; poor publicity arising from the first BFI report; and

complaints from housing authorities and landlords.

The council had improved staff training and development, making

available suitable procedural guides. A corporate training officer

had also been appointed.

The council had also appointed a senior fraud officer, resulting in

an improvement in the quality of counter fraud work, but further

efforts were still required in prosecution work.

In 2000/2001 Allerdale BC administered approximately£19m in housing benefits. This is 44% of its gross expenditure.

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