The Government has launched yet another campaign to clamp down on fraudulent benefit claims, supposedly costing the taxpayer an estimated £16 million a year.
Voters are led to believe by politicians and the media that there is a ‘cheat’ and ‘scrounger’ lurking on every street, but the facts say otherwise.
The government and press have turned society against itself with relentless stories of the ‘fake’ or ‘cheat’ lurking in every neighbourhood. People have become amateur sleuths and doctors, who feel it is their civic duty to report their neighbour for benefit fraud without any solid evidence.
In many people’s minds, their hard-earned taxes gives them the right – with full backing from the government – to report people they think are claiming benefits fraudulently, even if they have no real evidence. Jealousy and selfishness from people who think their neighbour (perhaps even a friend) is getting something they aren’t, or don’t deserve?
The debate turns into a discussion about the deserving and undeserving poor, marked by a cultural shift of divide and rule and encouraged by a socially divisive government with little thought for the impact upon the poor and disabled.
We all accept that benefit fraud is a crime that should be dealt with accordingly. However, benefits fraud accounts for just 0.7% of the entire welfare budget. Claimant and DWP Error accounts for 1.4% of the benefit budget.
0.9% is underpaid and more than 6% remains completely unclaimed, but then you won’t read that in the press.
If the government’s interest is fairness and accuracy, then it would do better to tackle error and under-claiming. Although I’ve yet to see government advertising campaigns saying: “Health getting worse? Let us know – you might be eligible for more benefits”.
Benefit fraud investigators are waiting for (potentially malicious) calls from members of the public to decide who to investigate. Risk-profiling, on the other hand, means deciding to investigate someone because they are part of a high-risk group, which can be more accurate and is less affected by spurious or unfounded accusations.
Of concern is not just whether this is the best way to tackle benefit fraud, but also the culture of hate and suspicion it creates. Public perception is that benefit fraud is sky-high and this wrongly motivates people into reporting claimants.
Fraud investigators are receiving several thousands of accusations of benefit fraud from members of the public, and yet the vast majority are proven to be false or incorrect.
The culture of hatred and demonisation of benefit claimants is perpetuating high volumes of false accusations. It is an outrage that taxpayers are being led to believe a high percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent.
Both myself and Welfare Weekly responded by making Freedom of Information Requests to the DWP. What we found out left us speechless and infuriated.
The figures we obtained bring into question the government’s policy of encouraging members of the public to report alleged benefit fraud, through new advertising campaigns on TV and social networks.
Only 7.34% of benefit fraud cases reported by members of the public in the last year were substantiated by investigators, the remainder being incorrect or rejected due to a lack of evidence.
While investigators review allegations, those reported face potential benefit delays and may be forced to turn to food banks. The DWP says benefit sanctioning as a result of a malicious allegation is “unlikely to occur”.
DWP also admit they don’t record how many people make malicious allegations – mainly due to the anonymity they provide accusers – and take no action (legal or otherwise\ against those who do.
“We are unable to confirm the number of claimants who have been incorrectly reported to be claiming benefits fraudulently, and who have their benefit payments docked or suspended as a result of this information, because this information is not recorded.
“However an incident of this nature would be very unlikely to occur. The Department receives information from a number of sources that might warrant an investigation into a customer’s entitlement to benefit. This includes those from members of the public both anonymously and named.
“The referral management and investigation of benefit fraud process is robust and greatest of care is taken to corroborate the information to ensure we are directing our resources appropriately.
“When an investigation concludes the alleged fraud is unsubstantiated the investigation is closed with no further action. This can occur at any stage of the investigation and judgement of this is on a case by case basis and influenced only on the basis of established facts, gathered through these processes. This does not necessarily imply this as a malicious allegation.
“Without the facility to report benefit fraud anonymously there is a risk that the public may be deterred from providing valuable intelligence that assists in protecting the public purse.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 20 Nov 2014
> More smear tactics, courtesy of the Daily Excess – “hunt down” all those benefit fraudsters who are the real cause of all ills. You know it makes sense (to Excess readers, anyway…)
The Government has brought together officials from the Department of Work and Pensions, the tax office and local authorities to tackle the crime.
The streamlined approach goes hand-in-hand with powers unveiled earlier this year to clamp down on benefit fraud, including using bailiffs to confiscate high-value possessions from convicted benefit cheats.
> Now there’s a tactic which would work better against all those tax-cheating individuals and companies… but somehow they never get around to them.
Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said: “Reducing benefit fraud and error in the system is a crucial plank of our welfare reforms to make work pay and the system fairer for everyone.
“By bringing teams from local authorities and HMRC into our investigation service we will be able to build on the hard work we’ve already done to crack down on benefit fraud.
“Alongside this change, Universal Credit is expected to reduce losses due to fraud by £1billion in five years when it is fully in place across the country.”
> Ha ha ha – Universal Credit is the biggest benefit fraud of all, millions spent on it and it still doesn’t work. If they’d not embarked on it, there’d be plenty of money for benefits.
The new service went live in nine local authority areas on Tuesday July 1 and will be rolled out across the country in the autumn.
It started in Corby, Cornwall, Cardiff, Southampton, Oldham, Hillingdon, Wrexham, Blaenau Gwent and East Ayrshire.
Joint investigations between local authorities and the Government have already led to a string of convictions, including Alycia Mallett from Broxbourne in Hertfordshire who admitted falsely claiming £35,700 in benefits while working as an escort.
She was given eight weeks’ custody suspended for 12 months in April at Stevenage Crown Court.
Source – Daily Express, 04 July 2014
> NOT included in the Excess article –
Fiction: People believe that some 27% of the Welfare Budget is claimed as a result of fraud
Fact: The actual figure is 0.8 % whilst tax avoidance and evasion is estimated at anywhere from £30bn to £120bn.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee has accused the coalition government of over-emphasising benefit fraud in a report on fraud and error in the benefits system.
According to official statistics included in the report, of the total £5.1 billion of ‘incorrectly’ paid benefits, £1.6 billion was underpaid and £3.5 billion overpaid.
The amount lost to claimant fraud represents just 0.7% of the entire 2012/13 benefits expenditure and the figure has remained relatively constant for several years.
The report says that “there is a large disparity between the official estimate of benefit fraud and the public perception”.
> Something that neither the DWP or the media has gone out of its way to emphasis. Quite the opposite, in fact…
A survey by Ipsos Mori in 2013 found that the general public believed that 24% of all benefits were claimed fraudulently, 34 times greater than the official 0.7% estimate.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee, which consists of MPs from all the main political parties, say that the government’s approach to tackling fraud and error in the benefits system “appeared to place emphasis on addressing fraud”.
Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud and David Gauke MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, “appeared to place emphasis on addressing fraud” in a strategy document announced in 2010. They highlighted the government’s intention to:
- Employ private sector firms on a payment by results basis, where appropriate, to ensure the full adoption of cutting-edge private sector fraud prevention techniques;
- Redirect resource to the front line to prevent fraud and error from entering the system in the first place, through enhanced checks and tougher sanctions for those even attempting to defraud;
- Ensure that anti-fraud activity is protected from cuts, including through the recruitment of over 200 new anti-fraud officers to sanction a further 10,000 fraudsters every year;
- Remove the current silo-based approach to tackling fraud, by creating new integrated cross-departmental data-matching and fraud investigation services (see Single Fraud Investigation Service, chapter 4);
- Introduce a system for rewarding members of the public who provide information that results in significant recovery of public funds;
- Respond to the growing threat of organised fraud through a new Identity Fraud Unit and far tougher sanctions for those involved;
- Introduce a new mobile regional fraud taskforce to investigate each and every claim in high fraud areas, to increase the certainty of detection;
- Address the weakness of the current penalty regime by abolishing cautions as a penalty for fraud, increasing asset seizures, and introducing far tougher one-strike and two-strike penalties, and a new three-strike rule;
- Clean up nearly 2 million claims to remove error; and
- Increase the frontline support provided by “Big Society partners” to help educate and support customers to get it right first time.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee say that of these measures, “seven focus solely on benefit fraud, one is aimed at fraud and error generally, and only two appear to be specifically designed to combat error”.
> That’s because their starting point is believing that anyone claiming benefit must be doing something illeagal. I mean, its what those poor people do, isn’t it ?
Benefit fraud and error is extremely complex with many different causes and ‘risk factors’. Analysis by the National Audit Office (NAO) shows that the incorrect reporting of income accounts for 47% of all benefit overpayments.
Claims made by a single person when they are living with a partner accounts for 13% of all overpayments, whilst claims made by people living ‘abroad or untraceable’ represent 11% of benefit overpayments.
The incorrect disclosure of savings accounts for 8% of all benefit overpayments, according to official statistics.
The report says that the over-reliance on claimants to report changes in their circumstances to different parts of the DWP, HMRC, local authorities and other official bodies, means that they “aren’t always aware who needs to be told what information, and when”.
Criticising the government’s over-emphasis on benefit fraud, the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that:
“Whilst we understand that making a distinction between claimant error and fraud is not always straightforward, we believe that DWP could be clearer about the official estimated level of benefit fraud.
> They certainly could be clearer – but that wouldn’t suit the Government’s agenda.
“We therefore recommend that DWP publish, on separate days, discrete statistical summaries of its estimated rates of a) fraud and b) official and claimant error in the benefits system, alongside its more detailed report, to reduce the risk of confusion or conflation of these statistics in media reporting and public perceptions about benefit fraud, and to emphasise the importance of actions to reduce error as well as fraud.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 19 June 2014
It remains uncertain how DWP will manage the housing costs element of Universal Credit without increased risks of fraud and error, warns a Work and Pensions Committee report.
The Government has stated that an IT system (the Integrated Risk and Intelligence Service (IRIS)) will allow it to cross-check data and provide similar safeguards against fraudulent claims under Universal Credit as are currently operated by local authorities within the Housing Benefit system.
Commenting on the report, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Dame Anne Begg MP, said:
“Through the use of RTI—real-time information on PAYE earnings—Universal Credit has the potential over the longer term to substantially reduce fraud and error in the benefits system. However, this could be seriously undermined because of the uncertainty about how DWP will administer the housing element of Universal Credit without increased risks of fraud and error.
Under the current housing benefit system, local authorities can cross-check claims across a range of data relating to other council services. Unless DWP is able to cross-check Universal Credit claims in a similar way it may be less effective in tackling fraud and error.
It is vital that a fully developed and tested IT system, which allows DWP to cross-check data, is in place before Universal Credit is implemented on a national scale. Worryingly, it appears that there is no automated system in use in the Pathfinders and is not clear when or how a system will be available.”
> It appears that UC has been developed on the basis of “we dont know how to do something, but we hope we might stumble across a solution before the system is due to go nationwide.”
The official estimated benefit fraud rate is 0.7% of total benefits expenditure. The general public’s misperception is that it is some 34 times higher. To reduce the risk of confusion or conflation in media reporting, DWP should publish statistics relating to the estimated level of benefit fraud on a separate day from those related to error in the benefits system.
> Trouble is, neither the DWP or elements of the media have any interest in presenting the true picture. They want to encourage the skivers image.
Dame Anne Begg MP said:
“Statistics relating to benefit fraud are often conflated in media reporting with those relating to error; and people’s perceptions of the level of benefit fraud are completely out of kilter with the official estimate. This is not helped by the Government publishing all of the statistics simultaneously. Whilst we understand that the boundary between claimant error and fraud is not always clear, we believe that publishing separate summaries of estimated fraud and error rates would be helpful.”
On progress towards fraud and error reduction targets
Fraud and error rates have plateaued from 2005/06 to 2012/13, despite an “uncompromising” and “zero tolerance” approach announced by the coalition Government. DWP will only meet the target set in 2010, to reduce the estimated overpayment rate to no more than 1.7% by April 2015, if it employs innovative approaches which are aligned with the known risk factors associated with each benefit.
Dame Anne Begg MP said:
“Despite DWP devoting considerable effort and resources to fraud and error reduction, rates have hardly changed since 2005/06 and estimated overpayments remain at around 2% of total benefit expenditure. If the ambitious target is to be met, innovative approaches are needed, not more of the same.”
On innovative ways of tackling fraud and error
DWP and HMRC should explore, with the Payments Council and the banking sector, the feasibility of establishing a system which flags up potentially incorrect benefits and Tax Credits payments, using data held by payments systems operators and banks on the types of payments due to enter individual bank accounts.
In the longer term biometric identity systems could have an important role to play in identity verification processes across government. The Cabinet Office is working on a government-wide system; the Government should evaluate the benefits of biometric identity verification in the social security system and more widely across public services.
Dame Anne Begg MP said:
“DWP should adopt a secure and consistent approach to public and private sector data-sharing. This should include exploring the feasibility of a system that uses data held by banks and payment system operators to identify potentially incorrect benefit payments.
The Government should also carefully consider innovative identity verification technology, such as the voice-recognition system now used in Australian public services.”
On the implementation of the Single Fraud Investigation Service (SFIS)
The Committee recommends that SFIS, a DWP-run service which will investigate all social security benefit fraud across DWP, HMRC and local authorities, be implemented, as far as is practicable, in line with the roll out of Universal Credit. The Government’s current timetable for SFIS implementation would see responsibility for Housing Benefit fraud investigations transfer from local authorities to DWP before the Department plans to take responsibility for housing costs support under Universal Credit across the country.
Dame Anne Begg MP said:
“SFIS is, in principle, a good idea but it makes no sense to rush its implementation, ahead of the roll out of Universal Credit. As far as possible SFIS and Universal Credit implementation should be aligned, otherwise there could be increased risks of fraud in relation to housing costs support. The Government also needs to pause to allow negotiations with local government and the relevant trade unions about the transfer of staff into DWP.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 15 May 2014
Welfare cheats will face higher fines for duping the system and could even be forced to sell their homes to reimburse the taxpayer, under new attempts to tackle benefit fraud.
Ministers are set to announce a package of plans this week which will highlight a crackdown on fraudulent claims and outline action to be taken against benefit cheats.
It will also be announced that pensioners who fail to declare their full earnings from private pension schemes will be targeted as fraud investigators cross-check HM Revenue & Customs records.
Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said the reforms will potentially save taxpayers £50billion over the course of the Coalition’s five years in power.
> Hang on – the amount of benefit fraud is said to be a whopping 0.8 % – how much are these less than 1% alledgedly fraudulent claims worth each ?!
Or is IDS playing fast & loose with the figures. Again.
Meanwhile tax avoidance and evasion is estimated at anywhere from £30bn to £120bn.
He said the reforms ‘strike a fair deal between claimants and the taxpayer, help more people into work and help us build a strong society’.
> Claimants are taxpayers, taxpayers are claimants – I do wish he’d stop these crude divide & rule tactics.
Writing in The Telegraph, he said: ‘If you’d listened to the scaremongers, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were ripping up the welfare state and telling people to fend for themselves.
‘In fact what we are doing is returning the welfare state to what it was meant to be – a safety net, not a way of life.’
He said the number of people claiming the main out-of-work benefits was already down by more than 630,000.
It is understood ministers will now set about recovering debts owed by benefits cheats and will work with private debt collection firms in an attempt to recover around £414million of the money owed.
> …will work with private debt collection firms – ah, I think we can see where this is going…
> a new benefit fraud division set up in the Department for Work and Pensions to pursue those who make false claims – presumably they will work closely with the private debt collection firms, and on the general premise that anyone claiming benefits is probably out to defraud.
In addition, a publicity campaign will be launched to try and urge claimants to ensure their details are correct and they are not accidentally receiving too much money.
> How about if mistakes are made by the DWP ? Will the house of the person who made the mistake be at risk ?
Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘The incontrovertible truth is that we are building a system that makes work pay, is fairer to taxpayers and claimants, and sets the strong path for a better future for Britain.’
> Eh ? and sets the strong path for a better future for Britain. What is that supposed to mean ?
He also said the ‘revolutionary’ reforms which are ‘work-focused, responsive and economically literate‘ bring the welfare state into the 21st century.
The Telegraph reported how the Government spent £166billion on benefits and state pensions to more than 20 million people last year but ‘lost’ £3.5billion to fraud and payments made in error.
> Hang on – earlier we were told Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said the reforms will potentially save taxpayers £50billion over the course of the Coalition’s five years in power.
Well, for a start, they’re most of the way through those five years… is he going to instigate retrospective seizing of property or something ?
Even if it was for 5 years, £3.5 billion x 5 = £17.5 billion. Where does IDS get £50 billion from ? Surely he’s not anticipating making a big profit on seized goods and houses ?
Also, £3.5billion to fraud and payments made in error – payments made in error are not fraud, so the actual amount of fraud is smaller – probably much nearer the 0.8% normally quoted.
It seems that once again IDS is out with his sledgehammer to crack a nut, but probably the real intention is to spread his vile lies and bolster his reputation (what’s left of it) as a champion of the striving taxpayer against the skiving benefit fraudsters.
Mind you, while we’re on the subject…
Source – Daily Mail, 06 April 2014
Ooops, forgot this was due ! City council bye-election caused by the resignation of a Labour councillor convicted of benefit fraud.
An interesting one, because it pitted two of the lesser parties (Green and UKIP) against Labour and the Conservatives (the Lib Dems wisely decided not to contest – there’s only so much humiliation a party can stand, even one willing to sell its soul so cheaply).
Would voters give the finger to the right wing parties (including Labour nowadays) and elect a Green candidate ? Why not ?
Why not ? Because this is Sunderland, and Labour would win seats like this even if Red Ed Milliband came and personally slaughtered every first-born in the ward. So…
In total 1,971 votes were cast, with six papers rejected, out of an electorate of 8,493.
Jacqui Gallagher (Labour) 945
Aileen Casey (UKIP) 555
Tony Morrissey (Con) 345
Emily Blyth (Green) 120
Turnout – 23.2 % Less than a quarter – maybe that’s the figure that really says it all – 76.8% of those entitled to vote didn’t. Something local politicians should be meditating on… especially the Greens, who with a bit of effort could probably clean up with the protest vote.
By Helen Sims
As I write this I am recovering from what we campaigners call ‘Brown Envelope Disorder’ – or ‘White Envelope Disorder’ (since it applies in equal measures now). It is what happens to a disabled or ill [benefit claimant] when a brown or white envelope appears on the doormat, particularly those marked ‘DWP’ –Department for Work and Pensions.
I was upstairs, waiting for my painkillers to kick in, when the letterbox went. For an ‘everyday’ person, it is normality. It is part of life. However, if you are disabled or an ill benefit claimant, living under the constant threat of an ATOS assessment or benefit sanction, [the sound of the letterbox] immediately causes the blood pressure to rise, and panic to kick in.
I’m sat on the bottom of the stairs, shaking and looked at the brown envelope (marked DWP) on the mat. Even though I know (rationally) that ATOS assessment envelopes are usually white, and that I am not due to be assessed for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the government’s replacement for Disability Living Allowance – for at least a year, the effect on me (and so many other ill and disabled people) is a reaction of pure fear. I sat there, unable to move, almost as if I was frozen to the spot. Rationality doesn’t come into it anymore. They play games, change dates, change criteria; so even if you think you know what’s what, (and when), for me (and so many others) the fear is still there. My heart begins to pound so loudly that I can hear it in my ears, and my palms begin to sweat. The rational part of me says ‘pick it up and open it. It’ll be fine’. The vulnerable, anxiety prone, part of me knows it is coming.
If I want to keep my life the way it is, I will have to go through a Disability Assessment for PIP, which is stacked against me. I will have to justify my right to the small amount of support I get. I will have to justify myself, my existence, my attempt at as normal a life as I can. I will have to sit there while someone judges me, and asks me leading, (unfair) questions, that are designed to deprive me of support and the things that able-bodied people take for granted.
I was born with Cerebral Palsy, and cannot walk or stand unaided. I suffer more or less constant pain, anxiety and depression – not to mention a few other things. The anxiety and depression have been made worse by this government and the media’s portrayal of disabled people as ‘scroungers’ and fakers. They have deliberately misled the public on the levels of benefit fraud, and we are paying the price.
I continued to sit on the bottom of the stairs, with all this going through my head. I feel worthless, and I know that I will be stripped of my Disability Living Allowance by the transition to Personal Independence Payment. I know that I am luckier than some. I have my husband (and his Pension Credit) to help us live, but for me it’s about independence. It’s about being able to behave like a ‘normal’ wife.
As things stand, I can help my husband pay the bills, I can take myself to the doctors or hospital appointments, I can go out (when I feel well enough), and see friends. I can feel like a ‘normal’ person. If they take my DLA, they take all that too – and I have spent years fighting to keep self-esteem and independence and to build a life for myself. I can’t lose it!
At this point, I am beginning to hyperventilate. ‘Be rational,’ I try to tell myself – ‘be RATIONAL!’ I fear the assessment itself even more than the consequences of it. Sitting on the stairs, I’m imagining all sorts of things. The assessor’s eyes look at me, and judging me. She looks tidy, she looks together, she tells herself. Yes I can, and I’m so lucky. What isn’t so lucky, is that I can’t sleep due to pain and anxiety….even though I’m so very tired.
I’m tired by life, and I’ve been made even more tired by government lies, and persecution, and the feeling that I have to struggle even more than I do already. Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to any of us? Haven’t we been through enough? I start to cry. Eventually, mid panic attack, I ring my sister, who tells me to breathe deeply, and reminds me that whatever this government says or does, I am a person…and I am worth something. She tells me that if it is the assessment, I’ll handle it, and that they have no right to make me feel like this…in my own home. I tell her I’ll open the envelope and call her back, which I do.
It turns out, that is just a letter confirming my benefit amount, and my level of claim. I curse myself, knowing that I should have checked with a fellow campaigner before panicking, but like I said rationality doesn’t come into it anymore; and besides, there are so many other people like me (and worse off) that don’t have the campaigners to turn to, and don’t have the information at hand. Who cares about how they feel? This government certainly doesn’t!
As my heavy breathing subsides, I go back upstairs, and I’m physically sick in the toilet bowl. No one should be going through this. It is psychological torture, and I’ve had enough. This government needs to be held to account for its actions. There needs to be a proper impact assessment done on the Welfare Reform policy, because what I went through today is only a small part of it. It is causing pain, suffering, panic, malnutrition, isolation, homelessness, and even suicides. Somebody, somewhere, needs to make it stop… Now!
Source – Welfare News Service, 22 March 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Friday 14th March 2014
Bailiffs are to be given access to benefit claimants’ credit reference records in an effort to clamp down on bogus claims.
The move is aimed at making it easier to confiscate high-value possessions if claimants have failed to pay back fraudulently claimed benefits.
The latest sweeping power was given to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) late last year and follows the controversial decision to give HMRC access to all claimants’ credit reference records.
Until last year the DWP only had access to credit reference records on an ad hoc basis if there was reasonable suspicion of benefit fraud, but the DWP now has complete access to credit reference data.
No 10 predicted cars, luxury items and state-of-the-art TVs belonging to “those who have stolen money through dishonest claims” would be targeted.
> A declaration that ought to have had all those MPs who dishonestly claimed expenses sweating. If only , of course, it applied to the rich as well.
It is estimated that £1.2bn was lost to benefit fraud last year and ministers are determined to do more to get that money back. Downing Street claims recent cases have found individuals claiming multiple benefits for years despite having full-time jobs, property portfolios and undeclared capital.
> Is this really true ? Given how many hoops the average claimant has to jump through just to get basic help, how do people get away with this alledged fraud on a massive scale ? I wish they’d share the secret…
Of course its probably just another bit of spin – some people fraudulently claim benefit, therefore all benefit claimants are probably suspect, seems to be the implication.
The new power means fraudulent claimants will see their benefits repaid through the sale of their assets.
Downing Street said the use of bailiffs would act as a strong deterrent and encourage more people to make arrangements to pay back what they owed without the knock on the door.
Benefits can be – and are already – docked to recover fraud debt.
This year has seen the launch of a publicity campaign to encourage more people to correct errors in their benefit claims early and to persuade members of the public to report suspected benefited cheats.
A No 10 spokesperson said: “Getting the welfare budget under control is a key part of our long-term plan for the economy. We want to end the something-for-nothing culture and deliver for people who want to work hard and play by the rules.”
In December 2011 the HMRC said it was to draw on the expertise of credit reference agencies to tackle fraud and error. The departments have signed a 12-month contract with Experian.
Source – Welfare News Service, 14 March 2014
This article was written by Randeep Ramesh, Social affairs editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 10th March 2014
More than 20 councils have used or plan to use controversial lie detector tests to catch fraudulent benefits claimants, despite the government dropping the technology because it was found to be not sufficiently reliable.
Responding to freedom of information (FOI) requests, 24 local authorities confirmed they had employed or were considering the use of “voice risk analysis” (VRA) software, which its makers say can pick out fraudulent claimants by listening in on calls and identifying signs of stress.
> Of course, people in genuine need never show signs of stress !
Although in 2010 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced it had given up VRA software, the FOI responses show councils have been spending, in some cases, millions of pounds on the technology.
Local authorities have continued to use the system to check whether people are honestly claiming the single person council tax discount, which allows single adults to pay 75% of the amount levied on a family.
Tory-controlled Derbyshire Dales said it had taken part in a county-wide review of council tax in 2011 that had used the technology – a contract worth £280,000 to Capita.
> Crapita – who’d have guessed they’d be involved in something like this ?
The same company was hired by Labour-run Southwark in south London and was paid £2.5m over three years. The council says VRA technology “was used as one tool to assist in determining the customers’ eligibility for the discount”.
The council said it did not record how effective the scheme had been but did say that its real worth was in making the public aware that it would crack down on benefit cheats. A council minute last year records: “Although [VRA was] used in a minority of cases, a significant amount of publicity was received that assisted in communicating to residents the council’s intention to remove discounts if property occupancy could not be evidenced.”
VRA is supposed to detect signs of stress in a caller’s voice by analysing short snippets of speech, and is still used in the insurance industry to catch fraudsters. Critics say the system is not powerful enough to distinguish cheats from honest callers.
A number of councils – Redcar, Middlesbrough, West Dorset and Wycombe – said they were convinced of VRA’s merits and were considering use of the system in the future.
False Economy, the trade union-funded campaign group that put in the freedom of information requests to more than 200 local authorities, told the Guardian: “It says a lot about council outsourcing – and the benefits-bashing agenda – that this pseudo-scientific gimmick is now making its way in through the back door. Capita is a firm with a long rap sheet of expensive failure. Neither they nor their technological snake oil should be trusted.”
There have been complaints from claimants who were assessed using the technique. In South Oxfordshire two people formally protested after having their voices tested in 2013. The council says that Capita’s system helped reduce the number of people claiming the single person discount by 3%, and would consider using it again.
Voice risk analysis has been mired in controversy since scientists raised doubts over the technology soon after it reached the market. In 2007, two Swedish researchers, Anders Eriksson and Francisco Lacerda, published their own analysis of VRA in the International Journal of Speech, Language and Law. They found no scientific evidence to support claims for the device made by the manufacturer.
Lacerda, head of linguistics at Stockholm University, told the Guardian that VRA “does nothing. That is the short answer. There’s no scientific basis for this method. From the output it generates this analysis is closer to astrology than science. There was very good work done by the DWP in the UK showing it did not work, so I am surprised.”
However, the Local Government Association, which represents English and Welsh councils, said the tool was used to help identify possible fraud. Peter Fleming, chair of the LGA’s improvement board, said: “Councils detect almost £200m-worth of benefit fraud committed every year. Every pound fraudulently claimed by people trying to cheat the system is a pound less that councils have to help those who need it most.
“No one is going to be prosecuted for benefit fraud on the result of voice analysis tests alone. But, in a small number of areas, councils use this technology as part of a wider range of methods to identify cases which may need closer scrutiny.”
The DWP told the Guardian: “Local authorities are free to design their own approaches to preventing benefit fraud.”
In a statement Capita said that, when it “undertakes a council tax single person discount review, councils can choose to use voice risk analysis technology as part of the process. The technology is never used in isolation. It is only used in cases which are deemed ‘high risk’, when earlier stages of the review have indicated that more than one person may be living at the property.”
Capita added: “The selective use of VRA technology is a useful additional tool in the validation process of identifying potentially fraudulent claims for single person discount.
“The decision of whether to revoke benefits is made by councils, based on the range of information gathered during the review process. The removal of claimants receiving discounts that they are not entitled to reduces council spend, enabling money to be directed to those who really need the council’s support.”
> Tell you what – a compromise. You can use it on claimants after it has undergone an extensive test – 5 years, say – on all MPs, local councillors, Jobcentre staff, etc
Source – Welfare News Service, 10 Mar 2014
A Sunderland city councillor continued to claim thousands of pounds in allowances after being convicted of benefit fraud – despite not attending a single meeting.
Lisa Smiles pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to notify Sunderland City Council of a change in circumstances, when she appeared before city magistrates in September.
She received £2,318 in payments across 12 months, after she did not declare wages and her councillor’s allowance.
She was suspended by the Labour Party, but could not be sacked as a city councillor as she had not been sentenced to at least three months jail, as set out in the Local Government Act 1972.
Smiles, who represented the St Anne’s ward, eventually stood down at the end of January – just days before she faced being booted off the council because she had not attended a single meeting in six months.
But despite attending her last Sunderland City Council meeting on July 24 last year, Smiles continued to claim cash totting up £5,422.99 between her conviction and quitting politics.
The amount is the pro-rata portion during that period, made up of her £8,369 basic allowance, her £6,277 special responsibility allowance as vice chairman of the West Sunderland area Committee, and mobile phone allowance.
Although Smiles has not done anything illegal, she came under fire by members of all political groups on the council.
Conservative Councillor Lee Martin said: “The extra allowance she has claimed is more than the amount she is having to repay for defrauding housing benefit. I’m disgusted.”
Colin Wakefield, leader of the independent group said: “It is incomprehensible that a councillor who has been prosecuted by the council for fraud and thrown out of the Labour group, is still allowed to hold a special responsibility allowance and have her mobile phone bills paid after being effectively ceasing to be a councillor.”
Sunderland Council leader Councillor Paul Watson said: “I wouldn’t condone it at all. I don’t know the reason she hasn’t come in, whether she was just too embarrassed or whatever, I haven’t a clue.
“But if people are not getting the amount of representation the public pay for, it’s the law that needs changing. The law could be expulsion after not attending for a couple of months or a certain number of consecutive meetings. It casts a shadow on all elected members.”
> So all agree it was not a good thing – after the event. Even though it was apparently legal.
What did any of them actually do at the time ? What will any of them do to stop it happening in the future ?
Source – Sunderland Echo, 07 March 2014