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Verification of informaton provided by housing benefit applicants about their bank accounts and capital

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Dear Dudley Council,

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 bank accounts, savings, investments and property
Q1- How do you verify the information that HB applicants provide about their bank accounts, saving, investments and property?
Q2- In the housing benefit application, you ask the claimants information about the number of bank accounts they have, do you always verify this information with a third party, for example with credit check agencies like Experian?
Q3-If you do verify this information based on the level of risk and other factors, out of the housing benefit applications that were processed by you in each of the last three financial years (at least in one financial year) , what is the percentage of the applicants you verified their information regarding this aspect with any external party such as Experian?
Q4-A- Do you always verify that the claimant has not got a property and/or investment with a third party?
Q4-B- If you do verify this information based on the level of risk and other factors, out of the housing benefit applications that were processed by you in each of the last three financial years (at least in one financial year), what is the percentage of the applicants you verified their information regarding this aspect with any external third party?

Yours faithfully,

Duncan Smith

Dudley Triggers, Dudley Council

Dear Duncan Smith,

Information Access Request - Information Request DMBCIR:18204
Description : Verification of informaton provided by housing benefit
applicants about their bank accounts and capital

I acknowledge your request for information received on 2018-08-01
16:54:00.

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[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: 18204 Direct Line: 01384 815616 Date: 30/08/2018

 
 
Dear Mr Smith,
 
Freedom Of Information Act 2000 - Information Request 18204
 
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
 
Q1- How do you verify the information that HB applicants provide about
their bank accounts, saving, investments and property?
 
The information declared on the claim including savings and investments
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- In the housing benefit application, you ask the claimants information
about the number of bank accounts they have, do you always verify this
information with a third party, for example with credit check agencies
like Experian?
 
This will depend on the risk status returned by our risk based
verification software provider. We understand the software includes checks
that may include credit agencies. Cases that the software identifies as
high risk have Information declared on the claim subjected to additional
scrutiny including checks with credit agencies.
 
Q3-If you do verify this information based on the level of risk and other
factors, out of the housing benefit applications that were processed by
you in each of the last three financial years (at least in one financial
year), what is the percentage of the applicants you verified their
information regarding this aspect with any external party such as
Experian?
 
Savings and investments are 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. Checks against savings and investments particularly are made by
the DWP Housing Benefit Matching Service which check the
savings/investment data declared on the Housing Benefit claim against data
held on other systems.
 
Q4-A- Do you always verify that the claimant has not got a property and/or
investment with a third party?
 
No however see above, data matching for property/investments are made by
the DWP using data supplied by the local authority.
 
Q4-B- If you do verify this information based on the level of risk and
other factors, out of the housing benefit applications that were processed
by you in each of the last three financial years (at least in one
financial year), what is the percentage of the applicants you verified
their information regarding this aspect with any external third party?
 
Not applicable – see above data matching for savings/investments are made
by the DWP using data supplied by 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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