Tories attack benefit fraud 'scandal'
Moves to make it easier for local authorities to adopt anti-fraud measures have been unveiled amid Conservative claims that benefit fraud is ‘running out of control.'
The consultation proposes to split the verification framework into three modules, with councils able to choose whether to adopt some, or all, of the options. It comes as shadow social security spokesperson David Willetts released figures suggesting half of all local authorities did not successfully prosecute anyone for housing or council tax benefit fraud over the course of a full year.
Mr Willetts said it was ‘a national scandal.' The figures showed 40 per cent of authorities did not have a single successful prosecution. A further 20 per cent did not provide data.
Mr Willetts said: ‘If the record of these councils is the same as for those with data, then 50 per cent of all councils did not successfully prosecute anyone for benefit fraud in 1999/2000.'
‘There's no evidence it's really tackling proper fraud. It's nipping around about the margins'
Local Government Association head of housing Gwyneth Taylor said government policy was aimed at preventing fraud, rather than detecting it.
She said: ‘The whole point of the verification framework is that you don't get to that point.'
Ms Taylor welcomed the consultation, which proposes splitting the framework into new claims, renewal claims and in-claim activity modules. A review of the framework is also proposed in which verification requirements could be reduced in limited circumstances.
Chartered Institute of Housing policy officer Sam Lister said the modules might be better than implementing the framework on a ‘big bang basis.'
The government has acknowledged that some councils have struggled with the scheme and will hope the modules will encourage those previously reluctant. But Camden Council benefits policy officer Peter de la Mothe said his authority believed its own anti-fraud policy was more efficient than the framework .
‘There's no evidence it's really tackling proper fraud. It's nipping around about the margins,' he said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said prosecution figures did not tell the whole story and fraudsters did ‘not go unpunished.'
Click here to download the consultation document.