HC Deb 23 April 1996 vol 276 cc185-6
5. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what priority he attaches to tackling fraud in his social security reforms. [24673]

Mr. Lilley

Tackling fraud remains my top priority. We are stepping up the fight against fraud with the spotlight on benefit cheats campaign. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has already announced month-long anti-fraud campaigns in Croydon, Haringey, Enfield, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Westminster and Camden. More areas will be announced soon.

Mr. Arnold

My right hon. Friend will be encouraged to know that he has the full support of my hard-working constituents, who resent their hard-earned tax going to support spongers and other people who break the law. Can he assure us that increasingly staff will get out of their offices and visit claimants' homes so that they can check out and root out the fraudsters?

Mr. Lilley

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are increasing the number of home visits and other checks. There were about 1.5 million last year, including fraud visits, and there will be substantially more next year. My hon. Friend is right that the greatest resentment caused by fraud and abuse is felt by hard-working people and honest claimants, who constitute the majority both of workers and claimants. We represent them, because we are the party of the hard-working class.

Mr. Barry Jones

With the campaign against fraud in mind, will the Government resist the temptation to close yet more benefit offices? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that such closures lead to the prospect of more fraud? In particular, will he consider the Government's plans to close the benefit office in Rhyl in north Wales? Bearing in mind the distress of the staff and the many thousands of people who do not want that office to be taken out of operation, does he agree that if he wants less fraud he needs more offices to tackle the problem locally?

Mr. Lilley

I shall certainly look closely when and if a decision has to be made about the office in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. He has always treated me fairly; I shall happily treat him and his constituents fairly on that issue. We try to make proper judgments about deciding locations. We are trying to get more officers out visiting people in their homes and making more checks to ensure that we are giving the right money to the right people at the right time. We do not automatically assume that a given number of offices has to be maintained in perpetuity.

Mr. John Greenway

When will my right hon. Friend introduce a benefit payment card to end the abuse of multiple social security benefit applications?

Mr. Lilley

We hope to start the introduction of a benefit payment card this autumn. I hope to be able to make an announcement about the consortium selected for its introduction under the private finance initiative in a month or two's time. I know that there will be great interest in that and that there is much support for ensuring that we eliminate fraudulent abuse of our present payments system.