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.