HC Deb 25 June 1996 vol 280 cc138-9
4. Mr. Simpson

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was the last financial year's budget and staffing for the investigation of benefit fraud; and how much was detected or reclaimed directly from such investigations. [32975]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Oliver Heald)

In 1995–96, a total of £180 million was invested in benefit fraud investigation and a range of security measures under the security and control programme, involving nearly 5,500 staff.

The total amount saved through Benefits Agency fraud investigation and the security and control programme is in excess of £1 billion.

Mr. Simpson

I am sure that no one in the House supports benefit fraud. Does the Secretary of State accept that it would be helpful if he presided over a Department that fiddles no more from the public than the public fiddles from the Department? As some £3 billion is withheld from the public in underpaid benefits, should not the Department's expenditure on promoting the uptake of legitimately claimed benefits amount to more than one quarter of the sum that it spends reclaiming the estimated £1.5 billion in benefit fraud?

Mr. Heald

It is certainly true that the Department spends about £26 million per year promoting its benefits and making details available through about 80,000 points of information. Ultimately, it is for individuals to decide whether they will accept benefits. The hon. Gentleman says—as Labour Members often do—that the Opposition are determined to fight fraud, but they almost invariably oppose regulations designed to tackle bogus asylum seekers and tough measures designed to tackle fraud.

Mr. Waterson

When does my hon. Friend intend to introduce a new benefit payments card? Will he confirm that, when it is introduced fully, it will save at least £150 million in fraud every year?

Mr. Heald

Yes. My right hon. Friend announced the supplier for the benefit payments card last month, which will come into operation in October this year. It will save approximately £150 million per year and wipe out points of encashment fraud. It is only one of a range of measures that will reduce benefit fraud by 70 per cent. over three years.

Mr. Frank Field

Now that the Government are slowly lumbering up to tackle serious criminal fraud against the benefit system, will the Minister kindly answer the question put to him: when will the Government match their rightful zeal against fraud with a campaign to tell the poorest about their entitlements?

Mr. Heald

We already do that. Far from lumbering up, the Government are limbering up and solving the problem.