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National Insurance Numbers (Illegal Immigrants)

Volume 447: debated on Monday 12 June 2006

10. What estimate he has made of how much has been paid in benefits to illegal immigrants issued with national insurance numbers in the past five years. (76102)

An employment-related national insurance number would usually be issued to third country nationals only if they presented proof of employment. If our officials had grounds to suspect illegal working, the matter would be referred to the immigration and nationality directorate. Our proposed right-to-work check will strengthen those arrangements.

Furthermore, possession of a national insurance number in itself is insufficient evidence to gain access to social security benefits. Robust checks to confirm identity, as recommended by the Grabiner report, are in operation.

The Minister has already quoted Lord Grabiner. However, is he aware that last week Lord Grabiner said:

“One of my key concerns was that if you got hold of an NI number then it gave you access to all kinds of benefits—everything that was going.”?

Is not the Minister’s inability today to give an estimate of the benefits paid to illegal immigrants a further indication of the utter incompetence with which the Department has handled the issue?

I will again refer the hon. Gentleman to what Lord Grabiner said in his report, which is that

“it is inherently difficult to give an accurate estimate of the numbers involved”.

That was his opinion in 2000. His report did not refer to individuals’ right to work in this country being part of the national insurance application process.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to illegal immigration in Kettering and the problem of legal migrants being subject to illegal terms and conditions of employment? Responsibility for those issues appears to fall somewhere between the IND, the Paymaster General and the Department. Is the Minister satisfied that there is effective Government co-ordination between all three Departments on those matters?

There is some sharing of responsibility. However, the Conservative Government’s legislation—the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996—placed considerable responsibility on employers to establish whether people applying for a job had a right to work in the United Kingdom. We strengthened that legislation in 2004 and we also implemented the Grabiner report’s recommendations. The system is therefore far more robust now than the one we inherited. We recently announced a further improvement.