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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 15:04 GMT
Clampdown on benefit fraud
The government's new TV advert
2 billion of public money is lost every year to benefit fraud in the UK.

The Government has pledged to halve the number of fraud and error cases and has recently launched an advertising campaign to get the message across.

Working Lunch visited the North East where a staggering 6,500 cases of fraud are reported each year. Here the benefit teams are leading the way in combating fraud using the latest technology and surveillance techniques.

Gavin Green is operational intelligence manager for the Department of Work and Pensions in the North East. Five years ago they were challenged with the task of reducing the amount of fraud in the benefit system.

"We've been performing quite well since then and have actually exceeded those targets to date," says Gavin.

"That's not to say that we're complacent and believe we have the problem beaten, there is still a problem out there."

Technology

A flask armed with a hidden camera

Newcastle is at the vanguard of technological advances. Here the benefits teams now routinely use material collected through surveillance to support their evidence in court.

"We use video cameras, we have mobile surveillance equipment.

"We can track a person from their residence address to their place of work and see who they are working for, the type of work they're doing.

This leads us to their employer to find out how long they've been doing it for."

One group of fraudsters were put under surveillance and were caught red handed.

One man caught on camera was spotted working on his market stall while claiming unemployment allowance. Another man was filmed carrying heavy furniture whilst at the time claiming disability allowance for a back injury.

The law

Investigators use powers under the Fraud Act to help identify benefit cheats.

The law enables the DWP to request information from banks and utilities' providers to find evidence of fraud.

Employers can be tackled if they collude with their staff to defraud the benefit system. Those who continue to abuse the system and have been convicted twice of benefit fraud will be disqualified from receiving benefit in future.
The law enables benefits officers to:
Request information from banks and utilities
Tackle employers
Disqualify you from receiving benefit

The two main frauds in this region and in the UK at large, are the working and signings type cases where people are working and don't declare work that they're doing to the department. Living together as husband and wife but not declaring the fact that is also breaking the rules.

"We're looking for a variety of information," says Gavin Green of the DWP
"If we're going to go into somebody's bank account then we're looking for a variety of different pieces of information. It could be that they're having wages paid directly into their bank account in which case that would identify who the employer is for us.

It could be that they have capital that they haven't told us about in which case it has to be in a bank or building society somewhere."

Deterrent

The government is hoping that the new advertising campaign, which shows how surveillance will work will act as a strong deterrent.

It's also hoping that it will encourage law-abiding citizens to report incidents of benefit fraud to the authorities.

"It's extremely vital," says Gavin.

"The public are our main eyes and ears as to what is actually happening out on the streets.

"If they don't tell us then we may be ignorant of the fraud that is going on."

The DWP promises that it will act on the information it receives and investigate all fraudsters with a view to getting the benefit back and even prosecuting them in a court of law.

National Benefit Fraud hotline: 0800 854 440

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