Benefit Fraud

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 12th November 2001.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby 2:30 pm, 12th November 2001

What targets his Department has set local authorities for benefit fraud prosecutions for 2001–02.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

We are working closely with local housing authorities on a range of initiatives. Until now we have been hampered by a shortage of information about housing benefit fraud. That is why this year, for the first time, we have introduced a continuous measure of the level of such fraud. When we have that data, we will consider the appropriateness of, and scope for, setting targets to reduce fraud.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

May I give the Minister some information? Last year, about 460,000 suspected cases of benefit fraud were reported by local authorities, of which 1,100 were successfully prosecuted. In the most recent financial year, only 42 per cent. of local councils successfully prosecuted anyone at all. Is it not the case that we have heard a great deal of talk and spin about cracking down on fraud, but have seen precious little action? There is no evidence that fraud is being reduced substantially, at a time when it should be going right down.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

We have reduced fraud by about 10 per cent. above our target for income support and jobseeker's allowance, for example, so we are beginning to win the war against fraud. As for housing benefit, of the 370,000 cases that went for investigation, in 100,000 cases fraud was established and a weekly saving was claimed. If the hon. Gentleman feels that there should be more prosecutions locally, I tend to agree with him, and when we have the data about housing benefit fraud I shall be sympathetic to considering the idea of having local targets for prosecutions as well as for fraud reduction.