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Benefit Fraud

Volume 516: debated on Monday 18 October 2010

Total fraud—benefits and tax credits, involving my Department and the Treasury—stands at £5.2 billion. Total welfare fraud stands at £1.5 billion, involving £1 billion in benefits and about £500 million on tax credits. My Department performs about 500,000 data matches per year, and under the new strategy we will use more private sector data matching to try to catch fraudsters and to stop errors. We will recruit more than 200 new anti-fraud officers to sanction about 10,000 fraudsters every year, and there will be a new three strikes regime to ensure that the worst cases, of criminal gangs and larger-scale identity fraudsters are robustly dealt with. It is worth reminding the House that the universal credit system reform will go a very long way to helping to resolve some of the problems concerning errors, which amount to a huge and significant sum each year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. Many of my constituents will be horrified to learn that during the last year of the Labour Government, prosecutions for false benefit claims slumped by 11%. I should therefore be grateful if he confirmed what action he intends to take to reverse that worrying trend.

As I said earlier, we will undertake a major drive on that issue. We think that, taking on board what the previous Government did, we need to take further action. There have been reports about the issue, and I can clarify some matters. The three strikes policy to which I referred consists of, first, essentially the loss of benefit, sanctioned for four weeks, going up to 13 weeks; secondly, the loss of benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks; and, on third conviction, the loss of benefit sanctioned for about three years. We will look further at the penalties, particularly when we detect criminal activity by a consortium trying to defraud the state. The reality is that we have to undertake that drive, and to those who moan about it and say that it is wrong, I must say that the main problem that we face is that taxpayers, who are often on low earnings, pay their taxes to support people in difficulty, and they do not want to see their money wasted, going to people who, frankly, set out to defraud the system. I hope that Members on both sides of the House can agree on that.

Order. The comprehensiveness of answers at the moment is equalled only by their length. They do need to be a little bit shorter.

When Members of Parliament hand on to their local offices allegations of fraud made by their constituents, will the Secretary of State arrange for the MPs concerned to read the fraud report to ensure that the job has been properly done?

That is very tempting. I am happy to discuss that with the right hon. Gentleman, and I am definitely tempted in his direction.