Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Lie detectors for benefit claims

Voice-risk analyser software
The voice-risk analyser equipment detects changes in voices

Voice-recognition lie detectors are to be used by two Welsh councils in an attempt to crack down on benefit fraud.

People in Flintshire and the Vale of Glamorgan on housing and council tax support will have their speech patterns analysed when claims are reviewed.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is piloting the 12-month scheme in 18 local authorities across Wales and England.

However, some critics claim it could deter genuine claimants.

Benefits cheats cost the UK taxpayer an estimated 400m a year.

A pilot scheme was initially introduced among seven English councils, but has been extended and includes Wales for the first time.

So far, since April, we've sanctioned more than 2,000 people in Wales for benefit fraud
DWP Minister Tony McNulty

Details were announced as part of the Welfare Reform Bill during the Queen's Speech on Wednesday.

The software is designed to detect any unusual patterns or changes in claimants' voices and alerts staff if further investigation is needed.

DWP Minister of State Tony McNulty said: "We're doing more than ever before to tackle benefit fraud, and the use of more sophisticated technology, such as voice recognition, just goes to show how determined we are to catch these criminals.

"At the moment we are only piloting this technology for a period of 12 months in 18 local authorities, at the end of which we will assess its effectiveness and make a decision as to whether it should be introduced across the whole country.

Anyone who is subject to a lie detector test will feel a certain amount of anxiety
Hywel Williams MP, Plaid Cymru

"The use of voice recognition is not meant to intimidate people. Its sole purpose is to catch people stealing money that could otherwise be used for schools and hospitals.

"So far, since April, we've sanctioned more than 2,000 people in Wales for benefit fraud.

"The message is clear - we're closing in on benefit cheats, and we will continue to do so."

'Endless form-filling'

Caernarfon MP Hywel Williams said: "I am in favour of effective action to prevent benefit fraud but I fear that lie detector tests would intimidate people who have a genuine claim.

"Anyone who is subject to a lie detector test will feel a certain amount of anxiety. People will know they are likely to be tested, but won't necessarily know what it entails, and that's bound to raise anxiety."

Alyn Lewis, Flintshire's head of financial customer services, said: "This new process, on trial, is not about refusing benefit or intimidating customers, it's actually about simplifying the process, reducing endless form filling and supporting documentation required.

"Our aim is to ensure that the right benefit is paid, to the right person, in the right time frame.

"We have been encouraged by the public reaction to the new system, and the positive feedback received."

Vale of Glamorgan council has been asked to comment.

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