SLACK TUESDAY; Shambolic U-Turn over HIPs Pounds 5.7bn Tax Credits Disaster Brit Crimes Abroad Blunder Deportation Targets Missed

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Byline: By BOB ROBERTS, Deputy Political Editor

TONY Blair's Premiership had a depressing end-of-term feel yesterday as a series of flagship policies collapsed in disarray.

In a sign of the enormous task facing Gordon Brown when he takes over at No 10, Home Information Packs, the bid to restrict asylum seekers, tax credits and keeping track of Brits convicted abroad all descended into farce.

Ministers urged Mr Brown to sort out the mess when he is PM. A source close to him said: "We can't wait to start turning things around."

In a major U-turn, the information packs - designed to make selling property easier - were delayed just eight days before their launch date.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said now only four-bedroom homes would need them. Hard-up families were paid pounds 1.7billion too much in tax credits last year, taking the total they owe the Treasury to pounds 5.7billion.

The Home Office was hit by another debacle over the number of Britons convicted of serious crimes abroad who are not logged on police computers here.

Home Secretary John Reid, who announced in January there were only 540, admitted yesterday the true figure was 2,198.

And just 3,370 asylum seekers were deported in the first three months of this year - 24 per cent short of the Government's target.

HOME PACKS

THE U-turn on Home Information Packs yesterday threw the housing market into chaos.

Just eight days before the scheme was to be introduced on June 1, Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly shelved it - then said only those who own four-bed houses will have to get them from August 1.

Owners of smaller homes wanting to sell were told only that they will need the packs - costing from pounds 300 to pounds 600 - sometime in the future.

There was speculation in Westminster the scheme may be scrapped altogether when Gordon Brown gets into No 10.

The move astounded estate agents and green groups - who had hoped Energy Performance Certificates that were part of the packs would help fight climate change.

National Association of Estate Agents boss Peter Bolton King said: "I am sitting here with my mouth open wondering what is going on.

"But there is nothing in the packs that will improve the process."

Dave Timms, of Friends of the Earth, added: "We are furious.

"Energy Performance Certificates are a crucial measure that will help householders cut their emissions and energy bills.

"These have been planned for years. They must be urgently implemented, not watered down."

Liberal Democrat spokesman Andrew Stunnell added: "Last week I described this is a train crash. Today the first aid workers are on the scene and we do not have a lot of confidence in the doctors and nurses tending the injured."

The packs were designed to make it easier to sell homes. They contain a property's title deeds, local searches, guarantees on any repair work done and other documents to speed up a sale.

Thousands of people put their homes on the market early to avoid what many saw as extra expense and bureaucracy in selling.

Others delayed buying thinking the packs would have made it quicker and simpler after June.

The packs were delayed after a legal challenge by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Tony Blair's official spokesman insisted they had only been "postponed, not abandoned".

Voice of the Mirror: Page 8

CRIMINALS MISSED

THE number of serious criminals who are not on the police computer is FOUR times higher than Home Secretary John Reid admitted in January.

Mr Reid said then that only 540 out of 27,000 Brits who committed crimes abroad were serious offenders. But yesterday Police Minister Tony McNulty admitted the real total was 2,198.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The initial work we did in January was urgent and important. …