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Verification of informaton provided by housing benefit applicants about their employment

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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 claimant’s income from employment and self-employment?

Q1- How do verify the information that HB claimants provide about their employment status?
Q2- if HB claimants declare that they do not work for an employer and not self-employed, regardless of whether receiving benefits or waiting to hear about a claim, do you always verify their employment/self-employment status with HMRC?
Q3- If you do you verify their employment status based on the level of risk and other factors, out of the housing benefit applications processed by you in each of the last three financial years (or at least in one financial year), what is the percentage of the applicants that you verified their employment status with HMRC?

Yours faithfully,

Duncan Smith

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: 18202 Direct Line: 01384 815616 Date: 24/08/2018

 
 
Dear Mr Smith,
 
Freedom Of Information Act 2000 - Information Request 18202
 
Your request for information received on 01/08/2018 has now been
considered and the information requested is as follows:
 
Your request and our response
 
Re:  Verification of information about the claimant’s income from
employment and self-employment?

Q1- How do verify the information that HB claimants provide about their
employment status?
 
The information declared on the claim including that relating to
employment is verified. The level of verification varies because this
authority uses risk based verification software supplied by an external
organisation. In most cases for earners, earnings are verified by sight of
payslips
Q2- if HB claimants declare that they do not work for an employer and not
self-employed, regardless of whether receiving benefits or waiting to hear
about a claim, do you always verify their employment/self-employment
status with HMRC?
 
Information declared on Housing Benefit claims 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 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 do you verify their employment status based on the level of
risk and other factors, out of the housing benefit applications processed
by you in each of the last three financial years (or at least in one
financial year), what is the percentage of the applicants that you
verified their employment status 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,
 
Sarah Lewis
Information Governance Officer
01384 815616
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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References

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