1 Jul 2008

Just the tip of the benefit fraud iceberg? - 2

In 2006/07, £965,720 of benefit fraud was detected in Lambeth, while only £90,000 was uncovered in Merton and £180,000 in Wandsworth. The council denies there is a greater amount of benefit fraud going on in Lambeth, saying that its hardline approach to the crime simply means more people are being caught.

As we know, they are one of the councils piloting voice recognition software.
Some 377 out of 2,000 people telephone interviewed with the lie detector technology were found to be cheating their way to benefits, which the council said helped to prevent £450,000 in possible benefit fraud.
That's nearly 19% of claimants.

A new dimension is that they've also been working with "a specialist fraud-busting police officer".
The addition of a police officer has also meant a number of serious fraud cases have been uncovered where tenancy and housing benefit fraud was only the "tip of the iceberg", the spokesman said.

He said immigration fraud, multiple mortgage frauds and money laundering had also been cracked by the borough's investigators.
This is reminiscent of the successes with ANPR software, which detects vehicles which are untaxed or have false number plates. Quite often this leads on to other, more serious offences being discovered.

Of course no one's suggesting that most benefit fraud cases are a sign of organised crime, but we've seen how this was turned up in Ipswich. And in Lambeth
The addition of a police officer has also meant a number of serious fraud cases have been uncovered where tenancy and housing benefit fraud was only the "tip of the iceberg", the spokesman said.

He said immigration fraud, multiple mortgage frauds and money laundering had also been cracked by the borough's investigators.
It seems harsh to criticise Lambeth Council for detecting fraud. Certainly the figures of £90,000 for Merton and £180,000 for Wandsworth are far below the £552,000 reported by rural Huntingdonshire.

Indeed, an opposition councillor says Lambeth has more to do on the housing front.
Lib Dem councillor Julian Heather said he believed more could still be done to bust people on housing benefits sub-letting their homes.

He said housing fraudsters could easily evade current techniques to catch them, which simply involved organising meetings at the tenant's registered address that fraudsters could easily attend whether they lived there or not.
But the council said its hardline policy against housing fraud was paying off with the housing investigation team recently recovering 35 properties that were either obtained illegally or where tenants had breached their condition of tenancy.

We have seen operations like this in Southwark as part of the National Fraud Initiative.

In summary, Lambeth is arguably ahead of most councils but there is probably a lot more benefit fraud to detect.

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