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Fraud, Blackpool

Volume 228: debated on Thursday 8 July 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement about social security fraud in Blackpool.

The administration of benefit fraud is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to my hon. Friend and a copy will be placed in the Library.

Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Harold Elletson, dated 7 July 1993:

As Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency it is my responsibility to answer questions about relevant operational matters. I am therefore replying to your recent Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security requesting him to make a statement about social security fraud in Blackpool.

The investigation of potentially fraudulent claims was reorganised in January 1991 when Fraud Sectors were formed.

The Blackpool Sector covers an area on the Fylde coast North to Fleetwood/Knott End, South to Lytham St. Annes and East to the outskirts of Preston.

There are currently a total of 13.5 full time members of staff devoted to the investigation of suspect claims although three of these posts are clerical support rather than investigators.

In the year ending 31 March 1993 Blackpool sector conducted 2,158 investigations. Of this total, 914 cases resulted in a weekly benefit saving and a further 304 cases produced an instrument of payment saving. In addition, an overpayment was detected in a further 304 cases. The total gross savings exceeded £2.5 million. Seven people were prosecuted in the same period and all were found guilty.

In addition to the Sector fraud staff who have carried out the activities as detailed above, there has been an input from a mobile team who are based at Area level and who can be called on to assist Sector staff at times of staff shortage, high intake of work or to conduct pro-active investigations into larger scale fraudulent activities.

In the past three months the Mobile Team has conducted a number of investigations, two of which were particularly successful.

In the first exercise over 1,600 visits were made to check the addresses of people claiming benefits. It was confirmed that 267 people were not living at the quoted address. The full results of the savings are not yet known as the exercise is not yet completed but they are anticipated to be considerable.

The second exercise involved the arrest by the Police of six people in connection with instrument of payment abuse. Over 100 people were interviewed by members of the Mobile Team and instrument of payment savings of £50,000 were recorded.

I should stress that the vast majority of the Benefit Agency's customers are genuine and will never have any contact with any of our Investigators. The investigators exist to ensure that the honest customer's benefit goes to that customer.

I hope you find this reply helpful. A copy will appear in the Official Report and a copy will be placed in the Library.