On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council was published on Thursday 29 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 benefits' 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 Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council against the Performance Standards. The report finds that the council is not at Standard for any of the 7 functional areas of the Performance Standards—strategic management, customer services, processing of claims, working with landlords, internal security, counter-fraud, and overpayments.Historically the benefit service has had a low profile within the council. As a result performance in terms of administering benefits, identifying and recovering overpayments and countering fraud has been weak over recent years with no prosecutions undertaken, poor claims performance and a lack of overpayment activity and management information.The report finds that from the autumn of 2002, the benefit service has been regarded as a priority area by senior management and Members.Modernisation of the council has led to greater scrutiny of council business by Members, and a new senior management team has been put in place and has introduced improved systems of reporting.The council has put in place a Vision, underpinned by strategic objectives that link performance, and it has introduced the Verification Framework and management checking, both of which have had a big impact on securing the benefits system.The report also finds that the council has put in place a new counter-fraud policy and strategy which clearly informs the action to be taken against fraudsters.In 2001–02, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council administered approximately £55.1 million in housing benefits, approximately 15 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.