§ Malcolm Wicks
We have a three-stage strategy for reforming housing benefit and dealing with the legacy of neglect we have inherited. The first stage, which is now well under way, is to radically improve HB administration and bear down on fraud.
The HB help team is working in partnership with local authorities to support them in improving the administration of HB. We are already seeing real improvements in administration as a result of the team's work and the on-going programme of inspections by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate. We also want to help more authorities deliver a high standard of HB service by sharing good practice. We are developing a dedicated website to do so and we plan to make available shortly on CD a "toolkit" which the help team has developed.
In April we will publish performance standards for the full range of HB administration. These standards offer local authorities practical guidance on effective and secure administration of benefit. Local authorities will be able to self-assess their performance against standards.
We have already increased HB administration subsidy for the year 2001–02 to £166 million, in 2002–03 it will increase to £170 million and to £174 million in 2003–04. This three-year settlement provides local authorities with stability, enabling them to plan more effectively for the future administration of HB and council tax benefit.
With the introduction of the pension credit, we are removing the need to reclaim HB every year for pensioners aged 65 and over. For those over 65, we will be making awards for five years. The HB income threshold will also be raised by the maximum amount of 525W the pension credit savings reward, to an expected level of £113.80 for single pensioners in 2003 and we will treat pensioners' capital more generously.
Introduced nationally from April 2002, our new anti-fraud incentive scheme, puts more emphasis on prevention of fraud, as well as its detection. And we are working to get an accurate and robust measurement of fraud in the system, through the HB reviews begun last April. In time we expect to gain sufficiently reliable information from the reviews of the level of loss in the system to be able to measure progress against an agreed target.
The second stage, which is already beginning, is to restructure rents. This is an essential prerequisite to the third stage of reform, instituting fundamental changes to the structure of HB. Fundamental reform of HB has to be built on the platform of the first two stages if it is to succeed, as was clearly set out in the Housing Green Paper.