Social security minister John Denham today announced a #26.6 million double initiative to prevent and detect more cases of Housing Benefit fraud which is running at£1 billion a year.
The money is going towards a Visiting Initiative - at a cost£11.6 million - and a Verification Framework - costing£15 million. The Visiting Initiative will mean that almost three quarters of a million visits will be made by local councils over the next 12 months.
Mr Denham said:
'We are working in partnership with authorities to introduce better administration and good practice across the board.
'By setting up better systems and procedures we can make the Housing Benefit system more secure and move our emphasis from detection to prevention.
'We have made it clear in our Green Paper 'A New Contract for Welfare' that one of our key aims is to root out fraud and specifically target widespread Housing Benefit fraud.
'We promised tough action against fraud. The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate will carry out a rolling programme of visits to local authorities and DSS agencies over the next five years.
'This£26 million is the next stage in the Government's drive to tackle fraud.'
Mr Denham said the two initiatives will contribute to the Government's three-pronged campaign against fraud with:
- improved detection, through visiting people's homes and better administration;
- more effective deterrence, by discouraging potential fraudsters; and
- better prevention, by stopping fraud before it can start.
1. The Visiting Initiative Fund: Local authorities were invited to apply for a share of the #11.6 million in the 1998/99 fund. It is a spend-to-save initiative with authorities coming forward with their own plans to combat Housing Benefit fraud in the area which would be supported by central Government. 251 bids from 245 local authorities were successful and it is estimated that these counter fraud initiatives could save up to #90 million a year.
2. The Verification Framework: An extra #15 million has been made available this year to local authorities to help finance a new administrative guide to improve standards of checking benefit claims. It will provide good practice for the administration of Housing Benefit across the country and will introduce:
- specific questions on Housing Benefit claim forms which claimants must be asked in order to prevent fraud at the outset;
- rigorous checks on identification and strict standards of evidence to support the claim;
- regular checks of the claimant's current details against the calculation of their benefit to find out more quickly if any incorrect benefit entitlement has been made; and
- comparisons with the local authority's own records, such as rent and council taxdetails.
The Framework is being introduced on a voluntary basis nationally and local authorities are invited to submit bids for a share of the funds available. #5 million is for set up costs, including revising application and claim forms and changes to computer software and #10 million is towards running costs of the new initiative, including more postal checks, visits and more staff.