Lunchtime news March 20

The Audit Commission has cleared Westminster Council of negligence in failing to recover more money from Shirley Porter over the homes for votes scandal. A report [downloads PDF] published by the district auditor published yesterday says:

‘I recognise that many will not be satisfied with the final outcome, as it would appear, given her recent visits back to the UK, that Dame Shirley Porter still has access to considerable funds. However, I have been considering the period of time leading up to the settlement in 2004. The Council must be judged on the reasonableness of its actions at that time and not with the benefit of hindsight. The question is, did it, in all the circumstances that prevailed at the time, make a reasonable recovery of the monies due to Westminster’s taxpayers? I am satisfied that it did. In my view, it is now time to bring this matter to a close and move on from the past.’

People over 60 are running up debt faster than any other age group, according to a Telegraph report of research by the Credit Consumer Counselling Group.

In The Guardian, Yvette Cooper responds to a story last week about building on the green belt.

But columnist George Monbiot attacks plans for the Olympics as a ‘stitch-up’ that will mean gentrification not affordable homes.

February mortgage lending was at an all-time high, according to the CML.

The DCLG has published an evaluation of the single regeneration budget that concludes it had a positive effect on neighbourhoods.

The DWP says £1.8bn of council tax benefit is going unclaimed and people could be owed as much as £600. Reports say the Lyons report will recommend tomorrow that the benefit should be paid automatically rather than leave it up to people to claim.