HC Deb 20 May 2002 vol 386 cc38-9W
38. Mrs. Anne Campbell

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what measures he is taking to prevent fraudulent claims of unemployment benefits. [55526]

Malcolm Wicks

Our strategy for combating benefit fraud focuses on getting it right, keeping it right and putting it right: making correct benefit payments in the first place; ensuring payments are adjusted as circumstances change and detecting when payments go wrong and taking prompt action to correct them with appropriate penalties to prevent a recurrence.

As part of getting it right, front-line staff have been made more aware of the risk of fraud and encouraged to take responsibility for ensuring that claims are correct at the gateway.

Jobcentre Plus will provide a more comprehensive and integrated service for all benefit claimants. One-to-one interviews will create a personal environment where the full and accurate details of a claim can be established and customers can be reminded of their responsibility to notify us of changes to their circumstances.

From last month, new powers in the Fraud Act 2001 became available for putting it right, by making it easier to catch fraudsters and give greater punishments to those who persistently abuse the system. Benefit fraud investigators can now require organisations like banks, insurance companies and utility companies to provide information about customers where fraud is suspected. Under the "two strikes" provisions, a person convicted of one or more benefit offences in two separate sets of proceedings within a three-year period may be disqualified from receiving benefit.

We know that our strategy is working. By March last year we had reduced fraud and error in income support and jobseeker's allowance by 18 per cent—nearly double our first milestone of a 10 per cent. reduction, a year ahead of schedule.