§ Mr. Robert McCartney
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) how many awards were made in 1997 to Post Office staff for assistance in relation to DHSS giro fraud; and what was the total expenditure on such awards; 
(2) if she will require originals of replaced giros to be held back by the Post Office on encashment for inspection by her Department for evidential purposes. 
§ Mr. Worthington
Responsibility for the subject has been delegated to the Social Security Agency under its Chief Executive, Mr. Chris Thompson. I have asked him to arrange for a response to be given.
Letter from Chris Thompson to Mr. Robert McCartney, dated 21 January 1998:I have been asked to reply to your recent Parliamentary Questions on the number and value of awards made under the Post Office award scheme in 1997 and on the possibility of the Post Office retaining the originals of replaced giros.The number of awards made in 1997 to Post Office staff for assistance in relation to DHSS giro fraud was 83 and the total expenditure on such awards was £830.As to retaining the originals of replaced giros, I should explain that the Social Security Agency is covered by an arrangement between the Benefits Agency in Great Britain and Girobank Plc whereby Girobank provides for the encashment of girocheques through Northern Ireland Post Offices.Under the arrangements, encashed girocheques are accounted for weekly by Post Office and retained for 1 week. They have then returned to the Agency's Finance Branch of reconciliation and accounting purposes. All reconciled giros are retained in date and Post Office order for a period of 12 months from their encashment and are available for follow-up investigation and evidential purposes.If a benefit office has doubts about the authenticity of a request for a replacement giro, practical precautions are taken, which may include contacting the relevant Post Office to determine if the original giro was cashed or otherwise, to try to prevent later encashment. Where the Post Office indicates that an original has been cashed and is still held, benefit offices may, on occasions, consider it appropriate to retrieve the giro directly.More normally however, reconciliation and accounting action will proceed in the knowledge that follow up action on both originals and replacements is taken in every instance by the Agency's Fraud Branch. I would, therefore, not consider it of advantage to ask the Post Office to hold back originals of replaced giros.I hope this explains the position for you but I would be happy to provide any further information you require.