HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc760-1
14. Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

If he will make a statement on the Government's progress in tackling benefit fraud. [111844]

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are determined to combat fraud and error in the social security system. We have a comprehensive strategy to safeguard the system from the first to the final payment. For example, we are insisting that claimants produce more evidence before income support is paid, which will save more than £1 billion over this Parliament. This comprehensive strategy will help to strengthen public confidence, and thereby encourage the public's support.

Mr. Fabricant

How can we take that commitment seriously, when the Benefits Agency's own fraud investigation service ran out of money in September 1998, which resulted in less than half the usual number of convictions? Why have the Government abandoned the London organised fraud investigation team, when much fraud occurs in London? One is almost tempted to ask whether it was because the Government did not want the team to investigate the biggest fraud of all—Labour's selection of the London mayoral candidate.

Mr. Rooker

Buried deep in there were some serious questions about fraud and error in the system. Although they were not asked, I shall do my best to answer them. We do have a strategy, which in some respects will be uncomfortable for right hon. and hon. Members. One aspect of it is data-matching programmes. As a constituent said to me on Friday evening, "Mr. Rooker, the computers are kissing each other." Facts are being found out because computers dealing with one benefit are being data-matched against claims for other benefits. People are being discovered who have forgotten to tell the Government about their savings or their occupational pension, while claiming income support. That can be extremely uncomfortable. We handle it as sensitively as possible, but we are determined to root it out.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Can the Minister explain why his own study shows that the proportion of people claiming income support and jobseeker's allowance who are proven absolutely or on the balance of probabilities to have defrauded the system has risen under his Government? Is that because they are soft on fraud?

Mr. Rooker

The situation that we inherited from the right honourable character across the way was that two out of five income support claims were being paid without enough evidence. We have changed that.