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Basingstoke And Deane Borough Council

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 4 June 2003

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On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council was published on Wednesday 28 May 2003 and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.In its response to the Housing Green Paper of November 2000, the Department for Work and Pensions developed a performance framework for housing benefits. The Performance Standards for housing benefit allow local authorities to make a comprehensive self-assessment of whether they deliver benefit effectively and securely. They are standards the Department for Work and Pensions aspires to and expects local authorities to achieve in time.The BFI inspected Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council against the Performance Standards. The report finds that the council is not at Standard for any of the seven functional areas of the Performance Standards—strategic management, customer services, processing of claims, working with landlords, internal security, counter-fraud, and overpayments.The report finds a number of weaknesses in the council's procedures and performance. A focus on paying benefit quickly, due to the council's strategy to support vulnerable people, meant that benefit had been paid without the necessary controls in place. The emphasis on paying benefit quickly has caused poor adherence to the Verification Framework, adopted by the council in April 1999.The quality of the council's counter-fraud activity was inconsistent and in some instances did not adhere to legal requirements. The council's Housing Benefit debt was not being managed, and the council did not use all of the recovery methods available to it.The report finds some clear strengths in the customer services offered by the council which had developed good working relationships with its major landlords and Housing Associations.In 2001–02, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council administered approximately £22 million in housing benefits, approximately 22 per cent. of its total gross revenue expenditure.The report makes recommendations to help the council address weaknesses and to further improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as counter-fraud activities.My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.