The government is set to use private companies to trawl through disabled people’s credit histories as part of its latest campaign to cut benefit fraud.
The prime minister, David Cameron, announced this week on a visit to Manchester that the government would unveil an “uncompromising” crackdown on benefit fraud this autumn, which could include tougher penalties and more prosecutions for fraud.
He said the government wanted to use credit ratings agencies to “go after those who are claiming illegally”.
The government wants to pay these companies according to how many fraudulent claims they detect. It was widely reported in the mainstream media that government sources had described these fees as “bounty payments”.
Experian, one of the companies that already works on fraud detection with the government, claims it could use “simple data matching techniques to identify lifestyles incompatible with people genuinely incapable of work” and save £300 million in incapacity benefit (IB) fraud and error.
This is a far higher sum than the government’s latest estimates of £210 million lost every year to IB fraud and error, of which just £30 million is fraud.
Experian would use techniques such as checking that information given to the DWP in a benefit claim matches information given by the claimant to other organisations, and analysing whether their income levels suggest they have a job.
But disabled activist Adam Lotun, director of Workplace Disability Adjustments, said he was very concerned about “consultants coming in who…do not understand the needs and requirements of disabled people”.
He said: “I am worried that a lot of [innocent disabled]people are going to get caught up and accused of fraud.”
The Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform (SCoWR) said the DWP’s figures showed total benefit fraud was less than one per cent of all claims, with errors caused by underpayments, overpayments, poor administration and bureaucracy far more of a problem.
Maggie Kelly, of the Scottish Poverty Alliance, said it was “about time that David Cameron started to focus on the huge amount of money lost through DWP mistakes and the £40bn a year lost in high level tax avoidance and evasion. The amount lost through benefit fraud is tiny in comparison.”
It also emerged that the government is considering forcing claimants of the new employment and support allowance (ESA) to take their work assessment test earlier than the current 14 weeks.
Chris Grayling, the employment minister, suggested that many of the people who abandon their ESA claims before taking the test have been claiming the benefit fraudulently.
He said: “You can wait 13 weeks on ESA before you have a medical check – 30 or 40 per cent of claims stop before that 13 weeks is up. That is something we should give some thought to.”
A DWP spokeswoman said they were “looking at options” for having the work capability assessment take place earlier in the assessment process for ESA, although no decisions had yet been made.
12 August 2010