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Verification of informaton provided by housing benefit applicants about their partners

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Dear Dudley Council,

Freedom of information request- Housing Benefit

Dear Dudley MBC
Setting the scene
The eligibility for Housing Benefit (HB) depends on several factors including income, capital, and the circumstances of the claimant (for example who lives at the property with the claimant i.e. partner, relatives and loggers), the size of household, and age.
HB Fraud and error can arise in different ways. Fraud due to claimants can occur when claimants deliberately have provided false or inaccurate information about their circumstances or failed to report a change in their circumstances to maximise their benefit entitlement
My request will focus only on whether you have control systems in place to prevent, identify and detect HB overpayments due to claimants’ fraud and when the claim is made initially, and subsequently after the benefit has been awarded.
According to the National Audit Office “The Department and local authorities manage HB. The Department sets policy, entitlement rules and shares data and guidance with local authorities. Local authorities have a statutory duty to undertake the day-to-day administration of Housing Benefit and pay claimants” (The NAO, 2014).
However, it is not clear whether the local authority or the DWP is responsible for having control systems/ procedures in place to prevent, identify and detect housing benefit fraud. And whether any of them has any forms of systems/ procedures in place at all!!
In fact, a 2011 National Audit office report states that: “In our view, the Department has not established sufficiently clear responsibilities to tackle fraud and error in partnership with local authorities”. I believe this lack of clear responsibilities has created loopholes in the assessment of housing benefit which enabled many claimants to exploit the system to their advantage.
I would like to ask some questions about the verifications of information provided by the HB claimants which aim to test whether you verify some of the factors that affect the claimants’ eligibility to housing benefit.

Verification of Information about the partners:
Q1- How do you verify the information that the claimants provide about their partners?
Q2- When you initially process / assess a HB application/ claim, if claimants declare they are not living with their partners, do you always verify this information at least with HMRC to check that the claimants for example has not got a partner that might be registered at the same address with HMRC?
Q3- If you verify this information depending on the level of risk and other methods, out of the housing benefit applications (where the claimants declare to be a single person/parent) processed by you in each of the last three financial years (or at least in one financial year), what is the percentage of such applications that you verified their single status at least with HMRC?

Yours faithfully,

Duncan Smith

Dudley Triggers, Dudley Council

Dear Duncan Smith,

Information Access Request - Information Request DMBCIR:18201
Description : Verification of informaton provided by housing benefit
applicants about their partners

I acknowledge your request for information received on 2018-08-01
15:14:00.

Your request is being considered and you will receive the information
requested within the statutory timescale of 20 working days (Freedom of
Information Act 2000/Environmental Information Regulations) or 1 month
from receipt (Data Protection access requests).

For your information, the Acts and Regulations define a number of
exemptions which may prevent release of the information you have
requested. There will be an assessment and if any of the exemption
categories apply then the information may not be released. In some
circumstances the decision to release information, or not, will be based
on a public interest test. You will be advised of any considerations,
subsequent decisions and your rights of appeal.

If the information you request contains reference to a third party then
they may be consulted prior to a decision being taken on whether or not to
release the information to you. You will be informed if this is the case,
including your rights of appeal.

Unless otherwise requested the information may be provided in electronic
format, paper copy, normal font size. If you require alternative formats,
e.g. language, audio, large print, etc. then please let me know.

There may be a fee payable for this information. This will be considered
and you will be informed if a fee is payable. In this event the fee must
be paid before the information is processed and released. The time limit
for responses is suspended until receipt of the payment.

If you have any queries or concerns then please contact the Information
Governance Officer at Dudley MBC, The Council House, Dudley, West
Midlands, DY1 1HF, telephone 0300 555 8283, e-mail
[Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council request email] .

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Most of the information that we provide in response to Freedom of
Information/Environmental Information requests will be subject to
copyright protection. In most cases the copyright will be owned by Dudley
MBC. The copyright in other information may be owned by another person or
organisation, as indicated in the information itself. You are free to use
any information supplied for your own use, including for non-commercial
research purposes. The information may also be used for the purposes of
news reporting. However, any other type of re-use, for example, by
publishing the information or issuing copies to the public will require
the permission of the copyright owner.

For information where the copyright is owned by the Council details of the
conditions on re-use can be found on our website at www.dudley.gov.uk.

For information where the copyright is owned by another person or
organisation, you must apply to the copyright owner to obtain their
permission.

Yours sincerely,

The Information Governance Team
Council House
Priory Road
Dudley
West Midlands
DY1 1HF
[Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council request email]

Information Governance, Dudley Council

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Corporate Information Governance Team
3/5 St James’s Road, Dudley West Midlands. DY1 1HP
Tel: (01384) 815607  Fax: (01384) 815660
Email:[Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council request email]
[1]www.dudley.gov.uk
 

Our ref:      RFI 18201 Direct Line: 01384 815607 Date: 30/08/2018

 
 
 
Mr Duncan Smith
WhatdoTheyknow.com
 
30/08/2018
 
Dear Mr Smith,
 
Freedom Of Information Act 2000 - Information Request 18201
 
Your request for information received on 01/08/2018 has now been
considered and the information requested is enclosed.
 
Your request and our response.
 
The eligibility for Housing Benefit (HB) depends on several factors
including income, capital, and the circumstances of the claimant (for
example who lives at the property with the claimant i.e. partner,
relatives and loggers), the size of household, and age.
HB Fraud and error can arise in different ways. Fraud due to claimants can
occur when claimants deliberately have provided false or inaccurate
information about their circumstances or failed to report a change in
their circumstances to maximise their benefit entitlement My request will
focus only on whether you have control systems in place to prevent,
identify and detect HB overpayments due to claimants’ fraud and when the
claim is made initially, and subsequently after the benefit has been
awarded.
 
According to the National Audit Office “The Department and local
authorities manage HB. The Department sets policy, entitlement rules and
shares data and guidance with local authorities. Local authorities have a
statutory duty to undertake the day-to-day administration of Housing
Benefit and pay claimants” (The NAO, 2014).
 
However, it is not clear whether the local authority or the DWP is
responsible for having control systems/ procedures in place to prevent,
identify and detect housing benefit fraud. And whether any of them has any
forms of systems/ procedures in place at all!!
 
In fact, a 2011 National Audit office report states that: “In our view,
the Department has not established sufficiently clear responsibilities to
tackle fraud and error in partnership with local authorities”. I believe
this lack of clear responsibilities has created loopholes in the
assessment of housing benefit which enabled many claimants to exploit the
system to their advantage.
 
I would like to ask some questions about the verifications of information
provided by the HB claimants which aim to test whether you verify some of
the factors that affect the claimants’ eligibility to housing benefit.
 
Verification of Information about the partners:
 
Q1- How do you verify the information that the claimants provide about
their partners?
 
The information declared on the claim including the circumstances of the
partner are verified. The level of verification varies because this
authority uses risk based verification software supplied by an external
organisation. The way the software calculates the risk and the background
checks it makes are not divulged to authorities.
 
Q2- When you initially process / assess a HB application/ claim, if
claimants declare they are not living with their partners, do you always
verify this information at least with HMRC to check that the claimants for
example has not got a partner that might be registered at the same address
with HMRC?
 
Information declared on Housing Benefit claims including that relating to
their partner is cross checked against information held on other social
security benefits and HMRC. These crosschecks are not carried out by the
local authority, they are carried out by the Department for Work and
Pensions (DWP). Every month local authorities are obliged to supply to the
DWP with a comprehensive data extract (known as the Single Housing Benefit
Extract). This extract contains details of every claim including the
details of every person declared on the claim. The DWP cross match this
data with datasets from the HMRC and other social security benefits.
 
 
Q3- If you verify this information depending on the level of risk and
other methods, out of the housing benefit applications (where the
claimants declare to be a single person/parent) processed by you in each
of the last three financial years (or at least in one financial year),
what is the percentage of such applications that you verified their single
status at least with HMRC?
 
Not applicable – see above verification against HMRC records is carried
out by the DWP rather than the local authority.
 
 
If you have any queries or concerns then please contact me.
 
If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your
request and wish to make a comment or complaint, or request a review of
the decision, you should write to the Freedom of Information Officer at
Dudley MBC, The Council House, Dudley, West Midlands, DY1 1HF, telephone
0300 555 2345, e-mail [2][Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council request email]. 
 
Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.
 
If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply
directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the
ICO cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints
procedure provided by Dudley MBC.
 
The Information Commissioner may be contacted at:
 
Information Commissioner's Office
 
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow 
Cheshire 
SK9 5AF
Telephone:   01625 545 700
[3]www.ico.org.uk
 
Most of the information that we provide in response to Freedom of
Information Act 2000 requests will be subject to copyright protection.  In
most cases the copyright will be owned by Dudley MBC. The copyright in
other information may be owned by another person or organisation, as
indicated in the information itself. You are free to use any information
supplied for your own use, including for non-commercial research purposes.
The information may also be used for the purposes of news reporting.
However, any other type of re-use, for example, by publishing the
information or issuing copies to the public will require the permission of
the copyright owner.
 
For information where the copyright is owned by the Council details of
the conditions on re-use can be found on our website at
[4]www.dudley.gov.uk.
 
For information where the copyright is owned by another person or
organisation, you must apply to the copyright owner to obtain their
permission.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
M J Guy
 
(Information Governance Officer – Dudley MBC)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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References

Visible links
1. http://www.dudley.gov.uk/
2. mailto:[Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council request email]
3. http://www.ico.org.uk/
4. http://www.dudley.gov.uk/

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