HC Deb 05 February 1996 vol 271 cc78-9W
Rev. William McCrea

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) how many fraud investigation officers were employed in social security offices in Northern Ireland in each of the last 10 years; [12549]

(2) what priority has been given to tackling fraud in the social service reforms. [12550]

Mr. Moss

Responsibility for the subject in question has been delegated to the Social Security Agency under its chief executive, Mr. Alec Wylie. I have asked him to arrange for a response to be given.

Letter from Alec Wylie to Rev. William McCrea, dated 1 February 1996:

I have been asked to reply to your recent questions on fraud investigation officers and social security fraud.

You asked for information on the number of fraud investigation officers employed in social security offices in each of the last 10 years. I'm sorry that records are only available from the 1988/89 financial year and I have set these out in the attached table. I should explain that wile these officers cover social security office areas they are managed centrally by the Agency's Fraud and Prosecutions Unit in a regional office structure and not by SSO management.

You also wished to know the level of priority given to tackling fraud in social security benefits. I would wish to assure your that providing safeguards against fraud and abuse in the social security system has been and continues to be one of the Agency's top priorities. This stems from the main aims and objectives set out in the Agency's Framework Document and annual Business plans and through my responsibilities as an Accounting Officer. Each year the Agency is set targets for benefit savings from anti-fraud work and these have increased from £7.84m in 1991/92 to £14m for 1995/96. Despite the difficult security conditions in which our investigation officers have had to operate, the Agency has met all its fraud savings targets up to the end of 1994/95 and has saved some £44m in total.

Recently, responsibility for formulating the policy for social security fraud has been transferred from the Department to the Agency and at the beginning of January this year the Department issued a corporate statement on fraud to all its business areas. The statement contains a set of principles which include the duty to ensure that steps are taken to prevent, deter and detect fraud and, where appropriate, to prosecute offenders. The Agency is in the process of developing a new security strategy for social security benefits which will shift the focus of fraud work from detection and investigation to prevention of offences before they occur. An important element of the new anti-fraud strategy is the introduction of a benefit payment card which will provide a much more secure payment system as well as more efficient accounting arrangements.

Finally, the Social Security Agency will continue to review its operational procedures, savings targets and objectives to ensure that they meet our main aim that only the right amount of benefit is paid to the right person.

I hope this explains the position for you but I would be happy to provide you with any further information you may require.

Number of investigation officers employed on social security fraud
Year Number of investigators
1988–89 41
1989–90 45
1990–91 73
1991–92 71
1992–93 74
1993–94 73
1994–951 66
1995–961 61
1 The reduction in staff in 1994–95 and 1995–96 was due to problems the Agency had in filling vacancies.

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