HC Deb 07 March 2000 vol 345 cc611-3W
Mr. Field

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will list for the Benefit Agency's study of family credit accuracy (i) the number, (ii) the percentage and (iii) the monetary value, of cases found to be(a) erroneous, (b) actually fraudulent, (c) having a high suspicion of fraud and (d) having a low suspicion of fraud. [113462]

Mr. Rooker

The Social Security Select Committee published the results of the Benefits Agency study in February 1999, a copy of which is available in the Library. The figures it contains are not a reliable guide because the study was not based on a statistically valid sample. This was due to the small sample size in a pilot study.

Mr. Dobbin

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the progress of the Government's zero tolerance approach to benefit fraud by(a) individuals and (b) organised criminal groups. [111570]

Mr. Rooker

We set out our strategy for combating fraud and reducing error in "Safeguarding Social Security", published on 23 March 1999. We are putting this strategy into practice with strong and sensible safeguards to ensure the "right" money goes to the "right" people. Among the new initiatives that carry this forward are the followingNew more robust powers for fraud inspectors in The Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill published on 1 December. These provisions give greater clarity and allow all benefit fraud investigations to proceed on the basis of common powers. All payments will move to automated credit transfer (ACT) from 2003 as a modern, more secure and efficient method of paying benefits. This will virtually eliminate "instrument of payment" fraud and enhance security over the life of a claim. This is expected to yield fraud savings in the region of £140 million—£240 million. National Fraud Intelligence Unit—announced 24 January 2000—to combine the expertise of our organised fraud investigators with that of other agencies nationwide, including the police and LAs. From the spring, we will launch a hard hitting TV campaign, aimed at getting the public onside in the fight against fraud. This will aim to shift public attitudes and promote intolerance of those who defraud the system. Strengthened gateway to Income Support—When we came into office, two out of five Income Support claims were paid without enough evidence. We have halved that. We are insisting on claimants producing more evidence before Income Support is paid. This will save over a £1 billion during the course of this Parliament. Verification Framework Sets rigorous standards for Local Authorities (LAs) in verifying HB/CTB claims, including targeted visiting. Key measure to promote fraud prevention and consistent standards of administration across LAs. £15 million funding distributed between the first wave of 84 LAs implementing in 1998–99. Extra funding of £100 million to enable all local authorities to implement the Framework from 1999–2000. The number of LAs starting to implement is constantly increasing and 234 LAs have so far received funding. Strategy in place to encourage remaining LAs to implement the Framework. Section 19 of Fraud Act took effect in September 1999. This requires all Housing Benefit claimants to provide detailed personal information that is sufficient for a National Insurance number to be traced and confirmed or issued. Royal Mail "do not redirect" Powers introduced under Sections 20 and 21 of the Fraud Act 1997 to prevent fraudulent claimants using the Royal Mail's postal redirection arrangements to submit benefit claims from false addresses; also to provide access to Royal Mail redirection database allowing the Department to cross-match against data held by Royal Mail. Available to all LAs from 1 February 1999. Over 250 LAs now signed up. Remote Access Terminals Remote Access (computer) Terminals (RAT) provide LAs with direct access to some benefit information held by the Benefits Agency. These terminals have contributed towards reducing the time it takes to process claims for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. To date, 364 LAs have at least one RAT installed. By the end of March 2000 this figure is expected to increase to 393. Additional terminals are being made available to those LAs using them to capacity.

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