Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 15th March 2010.
How much money was recovered by her Department in respect of fraudulently claimed social security benefits in the last 12 months.
We have recovered £23 million-worth of overpayments categorised as fraud in the period from April 2009 to the end of February 2010. We specifically target fraud overpayments and, on the latest figures, 92.6 per cent. of such cases are under active management. At the same time, we continue to bear down on fraudulent claims so there are fewer fraud overpayments occurring in the first place.
That is a tiny amount compared with the £700 million that the UK taxpayer loses every year to benefit fraud. Only a third of cases make it into court. Some 12,000 people last year were cautioned and only one in 100 was sent to prison. Is it not about time the Government started to take tough action rather than just producing more rhetoric and tough talk only?
The hon. Gentleman has given a rather selective picture of what is going on. Last year the Department for Work and Pensions and local authorities between them caught over 56,000 benefit fraudsters and took a range of actions, including administrative penalties and court action. Consequently the level of recoveries being made now has increased from £180 million to £280 million in the last five years.
The fraud figure has fallen from about £2 billion so although it is still too high, there has been some success. At the same time, the level of loss due to overpayments has increased dramatically. What is the Department doing to drive up standards of decision making to deal with that issue?
My hon. Friend has a very good understanding of what is going on across the board. In the last four years, the number of identified overpayments has increased from 992,000 to 1.6 million, but the level of official error has fallen as a proportion of the amount of benefit paid out. Next month we will introduce a one-strike provision, which should prove to be a further significant deterrent.