asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on progress with the checking and prosecution of social security frauds.
The social security system in Northern Ireland makes some 625,000 payments each week and pays out about £400 million in benefits each year. There is no evidence that fraud accounts for more than a minute percentage of the money paid out and the Government are determined to ensure that genuine claimants are dealt with sympathetically, speedily and correctly. Each year a greater sum of money is left unclaimed by those who have a right to benefit than is lost through fraud, and the Department of Health and Social Services does all it can to encourage people to claim what is theirs by right. But every fraud is a serious matter.Since the beginning of 1977 the number of special investigation staff has been increased by 30 per cent. and steps have been taken to improve the training of officers engaged on anti-fraud work. Over this period the number of prosecutions for social security fraud has increased significantly. In 1977, 696 cases were submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions—an increase of 33 per cent. on the 1976 figure. Fifty of these cases were in respect of "colluding employers"— an increase of 50 per cent. on the figure for 1976. The figures for the nine months ending September 1978 indicate that the rate of increase is being maintained. In 1977, 77 people were sentenced to terms of imprisonment compared to 63 the previous year, and substantial fines were imposed in many cases.Increased emphasis is also being placed on the prevention of fraud. New procedures have been introduced relating to order books and girocheques to give early warning of any attempted fraud. These selective improvements in payment procedures have been notably successful in preventing traffic in social security paying instruments.The Department of Health and Social Services will continue to keep under review its measures and procedures for dealing with social security frauds.