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The secretary of state for work and pensions, Alistair Darling has ...
The secretary of state for work and pensions, Alistair Darling has

published a report by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) into

the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit and

counter fraud activity by Torbay Council.

Inspectors found Torbay to be an average performing council both in

benefit administration and counter fraud work. The report identifies

both strengths and weaknesses in the benefits service. The council is

committed to collecting evidence to support a customer's claim for

benefit, although BFI does identify the need for some further

improvements. At the time of the inspection Torbay was revising its

claim form to meet the standards of the BFI model form.

BFI found evidence of backlogs of work which were not being

addressed. It was noted that the time taken to process claims was

very poor with only 45% being cleared within the 14 day target. These

backlogs were also reducing the ability of the council to ensure that

renewal claims were being assessed without a break in payment.

The report also finds that changes in circumstances, which could lead

to overpayment of benefit, were not given sufficient priority by the

benefits section. However, an experimental scheme for the sharing of

information between the council, the Employment Service and the

Benefits Agency on changes in clients' circumstances was highlighted

as being innovative.

Inspectors considered there were weaknesses in all stages of dealing

with overpayments and the report makes recommendations on tackling

this issue. Since 1997 the debt owed to the council has increased by


The council's clear progress in developing a counter fraud strategy,

fully supported by elected members, is recognised. Its process for

verifying claims for benefit was found to be up to the required

standard. The report concludes that the fraud section would benefit

from additional resources to build on the effective work that has

been already undertaken. The council has since told BFI that it has

implemented 75% of BFI's recommendations and has plans in place to

implement the remainder as a priority.

The BFI is an independent unit within the department for work and

pensions (DWP) that reports directly to the secretary of state for

work and pensions on the standard of benefit administration and

counter fraud activity.

It works to help councils improve efficiency and deter, prevent,

detect and investigate fraud by strengthening the security of the

delivery of benefits. Its report includes recommendations of good

practice and Torbay Council is able to make use of these to address

the weaknesses identified.

Malcolm Wicks, work and pensions minister announced the publication

of the report in response to a Parliamentary Question from Vernon



The process for inspection at Torbay Council included an initial fact

finding stage, an on site visit and report generation and clearance.

The onsite visit part of the inspection took place during June 2001.

Each BFI inspection report is considered by the secretary of state

who decides whether any further action is appropriate. The secretary

of state has powers to issue directions to a local authority to

secure acceptable/minimum standards in performance.

A new contract for welfare: Safeguarding Social Security sets out the

government's strategy for tackling fraud in benefits. It calls for

sustained and detailed effort across 4 fronts:

-- getting it right - benefit payments should be correct from day one

-- keeping it right - ensuring payments are adjusted as circumstances


-- putting it right - detecting when payments go wrong and taking prompt

action to correct them, with appropriate penalties to prevent


-- making sure things work - monitoring progress, evaluating the

strength of defences and adjusting them in the light of experience.

The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate is integral to this strategy.

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