Headlines: February 17th, 2003

The Department for Work and Pensions is committed to make a 25% reduction in Housing Benefit fraud in the period from April 2003 to 2006. The latest report from the National Audit Office reveals that attempts have so far failed to produce an estimate of how much fraud is taking place. The NAO questions the ability of the Department to meet its target.Estimates of the level of Benefit Fraud have a chequered history. In 1997 it was put at 900m pounds. In 2001 the estimate was 1.3 billion pounds or 8.4 percent of expenditure. As new figures emerged they carried a warning from the Government Statistical Office that it is not possible to place the same reliance on figures of fraud as it is on the size of hospital waiting lists. Benefit fraud figures have so far relied on sampling which is not a precise science. It is claimed that the measure now being developed by the Department will provide a reliable estimate of fraud.

Meanwhile, fraud investigators in the Department and in local authorities are working together, sharing data, developing skills and using local knowledge and experience in selecting benefit claims for further checks.

The Department has been more successful with reducing fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance. By March 2002 there was a 24 per cent reduction compared to the 1997-98 baseline. This outperformed the target by 10 per cent.