§ Angela Eagle
We intend to reform Housing Benefit to improve customer service through a modernised, streamlined system, to tackle fraud and error, and to reduce the barriers to work.
The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate is conducting an on-going programme of inspections of local authorities, encouraging them to develop action plans to improve administration and tackle fraud and error. Best practice guidance, developed through this programme, has been made available to all local authorities. The current round of inspections focuses on the 30 local authorities with the highest Housing Benefit expenditure. We have made it abundantly clear to all council Chief Executives that where the inspectorate finds evidence of persistent 33W failings, we will use our powers to direct the authority on the standards it is to meet and the timescales for achieving them.
We have set Best Value performance indicators from this April designed to ensure that authorities provide their communities with a faster, more accurate Housing Benefit service which is more secure against fraud, and which provides value for money and takes account of the views and needs of clients. Authorities are required to set challenging targets against these indicators and demonstrate that they are achieving year on year improvements in the standard of service they provide. And we are making better use of IT to speed up administration and reduce the scope for fraud and error. By this autumn, nearly all of the 20 million forms currently sent by the Benefits Agency to local authorities through the post will be sent electronically, significantly reducing the time taken just to transfer information.
We have already made significant progress; our Housing Green Paper, currently out for consultation, sets out how we can take this further.
Housing Benefit recipients in deregulated tenancies by Housing Benefit scheme, Great Britain, May 1998 Total private deregulated tenants Assessed under LRR scheme1 Assessed under SRR scheme Total 803,000 542,000 32,000 Total restricted under scheme — 191,000 10,000 As a percentage of all private deregulated tenants — 24 1 As a percentage of private deregulated tenants assessed under each scheme — 35 31 1 January 1996 and October 1997
1. Information refers to the number of benefit units.
2. The figures are rounded to the nearest thousand and the percentages are to the nearest whole number.
3. Information is in respect of tenants on Housing Benefit living in the deregulated private rented sector.
4. We do not centrally collect data on contractual rents neither do we record whether the rent is exceptionally high or significantly high because the local authority is required to use the lowest of the determinations made by the rent officer to calculate the rent for Housing Benefit purposes. They therefore record the figure rather than the determination to which it relates.
Housing Benefit Management Information System, annual 1 per cent. sample, taken on the second Thursday of May 1998.