§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)
We are committed to taking tough action on social security and housing benefit fraud. We are endeavouring to make the social security system more secure, to modernise it and, of course, to punish those who abuse it.
§ Mr. Beggs
I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. Will he join me in congratulating those vigilant officials 964 throughout the United Kingdom who uncovered £68 million of housing benefit fraud last year? Will he condemn the inefficiency of those officials who do not act promptly when information is provided, as outlined by Brian Sewell in the Evening Standard earlier this month? Will he encourage the public to blow the whistle on benefit cheats so that those most in need can have better benefits in future?
§ The Prime Minister
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I congratulate those local authority investigators who are doing their job well, but more can and should be done. That is one reason for setting up the benefit fraud inspectorate, which will raise and maintain standards in counter-fraud activity. We are implementing two further measures from next month, which will make a beneficial difference. First, we are introducing powers to ensure that only people with national insurance numbers can get benefits. That will be of some help in cutting down on fraud. Secondly, we are demonstrating our commitment to crack down, particularly on housing benefit fraud, by giving local authorities valuable new powers, which will allow them to prevent unscrupulous landlords and tenants from reaching an agreement to fiddle the system together. That is happening on too great a basis at the moment. We want to crack down on it as soon as we can.