“An over-indulgence of anything, even something as pure as water, can intoxicate.”
Social security fraud should be viewed as a white-collar crime, which sometimes involves sophisticated schemes and multiple co-conspirators possibly taking years to investigate.
The prevention of social security fraud involves a balancing act between preserving the recipient’s privacy while at the same time ensuring that public money is directed towards genuine claimants.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has done much to publicise awareness of the criminal implications of claiming false entitlement to benefits. Yet individuals continue to exploit the benefit system by making multiple claims, misrepresenting material circumstances and committing identity fraud.
Many councils are using the following range of high-tech methods in detecting fraud:
- Validation of information provided on a benefit claim
- Matching records against those held by
- other Council departments and Local Authorities
- other Government departments including the DWP and HM Revenue & Customs
- private-sector companies such as banks and other financial institutions, credit reference agencies, and telecommunication providers
- Carrying out home visits to benefit claimants to check their circumstances are up to date and reflect what has been disclosed in the application for benefits
- Surveillance of claimants
The only safeguard that can stop this abuse is the implementation of comprehensive systems and procedures that will prevent and minimise the possibilities of fraud. Trained staff, who can spot signs of misuse and fraudulent activities, will prove to be an asset to the execution of these systems and procedures.
The following is an example of how other countries tackle social security fraud. The Australian Department of Social Security has developed a risk-based approach to select those cases of potential fraud which require the most attention by analysing statistical surveys of claimants with an above average risk of incorrect payment. The computer selects clients with these characteristics for review. Staff can also identify individuals for review based on local knowledge, public information and local industry surveys, thus weeding out the offenders.
There is no doubt that the way forward will be dependent on sophisticated joined up technology coming from local authorities and the DWP, together with commercially available sources. Working with the police and the National Crime Agency will be essential to the success of fraud prevention and detection.
In my opinion, as long as the UK continues to rely on the fact that it is the claimant’s responsibility to declare and disclose all relevant facts of their circumstances without a thorough investigation, then social security benefits will remain open to abuse.