§ 15. Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton)
What plans he has to minimise fraud in the administration of housing benefit. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle)
"Safeguarding Social Security", published in March, makes it clear that we are developing a benefit system that is secure from start to 19 finish. We have already taken a number of steps to make the administration of housing benefit more secure. Those steps include providing £100 million to fund a rigorous programme of checks by local authorities on the authenticity of claims. We have also introduced a scheme, in conjunction with the Royal Mail, to prevent fraudsters from redirecting postal payments.
§ Mr. Twigg
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The previous Government did nothing about benefit fraud. Is not the level of fraud that we inherited from that Government unacceptable? Will my hon. Friend do all that she can to work with local authorities to ensure best practice; and, more important, will she ensure that that best practice is spread throughout local government?
§ Angela Eagle
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid point. Some local authorities are extremely good at administering housing benefit, while others fail and fall below the kind of standard that we would expect. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Housing is introducing best value pilots, which will include housing benefit and will set—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Conservative Members seem to think that sitting there and sneering about the Government's plans is somehow—[Interruption.]
§ Madam Speaker
Order. Members on the Opposition Front Bench must remain silent while the answer is being given. I want no running commentaries from them—or from Members on the Benches behind them, for that matter.
§ Angela Eagle
Thank you, Madam Speaker. The hooligan element has taken over the Tory party; all Tory Members can do is sneer—they have no policies.
20 As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, the best value pilots will set benchmarks of good administration for housing benefit that can be followed by other local authorities. We have also included housing benefit and council tax benefit in the new work-focused single gateway pilots. We have been carrying out some prototypes between local authorities and the Benefits Agency to improve administration. Those prototypes have resulted in spectacular improvements, so we are considering how we can spread that throughout the whole country.
§ Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
Further to the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), will the Minister confirm that a recent Audit Commission report shows that, in no fewer than 25 per cent. of local authorities visited, the commission found evidence of fraud committed by officers or members of the local authority? Does she agree that that disgraceful situation should be addressed urgently, ahead of other reforms to the housing benefit system?
§ Angela Eagle
If the hon. Gentleman had read the rest of the reports, he would realise that they both compliment the Government on the progress made in detecting and reducing fraud. I agree that such an incidence of officer or councillor fraud is utterly unacceptable, and we are producing a whole strategy to deal with it. Perhaps he should sit back and reflect on how he went through the Lobby and helped the Tory Government to create a housing benefit system that is so fragmented and fractured that it is extremely difficult to administer efficiently.