HC Deb 08 February 2001 vol 362 cc697-8W
Miss Geraldine Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he has taken to reduce(a) benefit fraud and (b) housing benefit fraud in Morecambe and Lunesdale. [148965]

Mr. Rooker

After years of neglect, we are getting to grips with Social Security fraud. We are implementing a strategy to tighten up the system and make sure that from the very first claim, the right benefits are going to the right people at the right time. We have set ourselves firm targets to reduce the losses from fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance by 25 per cent. by March 2004, and 50 per cent. by March 2006.

We have saved more than £150 million over two years by cross-checking departmental records with information from other Government Departments. More than 22,000 people were sanctioned or prosecuted in 1999–2000, an increase of nearly 60 per cent. on the previous year. We published figures last November which showed that losses from fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance had fallen for the first time, a saving of around £60 million.

We continue to invest to help local authorities root out Housing Benefit fraud. We have provided over £100 million since 1998 so that local authorities can implement the verification framework which protects the gateway to benefit by setting out minimum standards for collecting evidence before claims are paid. Over 350 councils are now using the Royal Mail scheme to stop benefit cheques being redirected from the address they have been claimed for.

Our £2 million programme to make better use of IT has given 404 local authorities on-line access to essential benefit information held on departmental systems, reducing the scope for fraud and error. We are now building on this through the integrated inquiry service, which will give authorities access to further information to help combat fraud, including the Department's database of National Insurance numbers. Our new anti-fraud incentive scheme is being phased in from April and will make the gateway to Housing Benefit more secure, putting the focus on prevention as well as detection. The new scheme sets out the anti-fraud activities we expect local authorities to undertake, and it introduces new financial rewards for authorities that act to prevent fraud from happening in the first place.

These are just some of the measures that have already started to make a significant reduction in fraud and error in areas such as Morecambe and Lunesdale. These will be further strengthened by the new measures proposed in the Social Security Fraud Bill currently before Parliament.