HC Deb 26 January 1998 vol 305 cc7-8
5. Ms Moran

What plans she has to take action to reduce the numbers of false national insurance numbers in circulation. [23056]

The Minister for Welfare Reform (Mr. Frank Field)

The Government attach the highest importance to safeguarding the integrity of the national insurance system and its numbers system. There is a programme under way that is looking at the validity of each number: 750,000 numbers have been checked so far and the programme continues.

Ms Moran

I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful reply and ask that he investigates an issue raised with me by members of the Luton jobcentre and Benefits Agency, with whom I recently worked for a day. They expressed concern about the estimated 14 million to 17 million national insurance numbers in circulation, which might be subject to abuse. I am sure that he will want to address that issue, so that we can start to modernise our benefits system, get rid of the shambles that we inherited from the previous Tory Government and ensure that benefits are targeted on the most needy.

Mr. Field

To the three points that my hon. Friend raises, the answers are yes, yes and yes. In addition, section 19 of the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Act 1997. which is coming into operation over time, ensures that claims to benefit are made dependent on the production of a valid national insurance number and that checks on each number will be made at the point of benefit claim.

Mr. Sayeed

The Prime Minister said that benefit fraud cost this country £4 billion to £5 billion a year. Does the Minister agree?

Mr. Field

The Government have always been careful about giving estimates of the amount of benefit fraud. It is sensible for the whole House to accept that we have a duty to be ever vigilant on behalf of taxpayers. That is the approach taken by the Government.

Mrs. Mahon

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to tell us how many of the national insurance numbers already examined are false?

Mr. Field

Of the more than three quarters of a million national insurance numbers that have been checked, there have been 133,000 plus duplicate accounts. A number of them are being studied for further investigation. I shall be happy to report progress to the House and to my hon. Friend on that basis.