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2 Aug 2019

Recorded benefit fraud costs £1m a week just in northern Ireland

£1m a week. That is only in northern Ireland - and only what they know about.

Benefit fraud in Northern Ireland cost the public purse more than £56m in the last year, a report has revealed. The amount lost to fraudsters has risen by almost 30% in five years.

The northern Ireland benefits bill is now running at more than £6bn a year.

The highest levels of fraud were seen in claims for Employment and Support Allowance (£20.7m) and housing benefit (£17.5m).

It has led to calls for tougher action against those who defraud the system. The Belfast Telegraph has previously reported on the low number of cases that result in prosecution.

Total expenditure on benefits in the last year was £6.1bn - a rise of 7.7% from five years ago.

This includes £2.3bn on the state pension, £892m on Employment and Support Allowance, and £688m on Disability Living Allowance.

The report details how customer fraud has risen from £43.5m to £56.2m over the last five years - up by 29.1%. Recorded benefit fraud in 2018 included:

• £20,749,065 through Employment and Support Allowance;

• £17,486,007 through Housing Benefit (Tenants);

• £6,238,160 through Pension Credit;

• £3,065,161 through Jobseeker's Allowance;

• And £2,245,117 through Universal Credit.

A further £23.1m was lost in the last year as a result of official error and £13m through customer error, where no fraud is intended.

The department estimated there were also underpayments of £30.5m due to official error.

A spokesman said:
The Department has a sizeable and experienced benefit security team which makes use of specific powers to effectively detect and target loss through mistakes and/or intentional frauds. For example, during 2018/19, over 8,000 case reviews, interviews or full fraud investigations were undertaken leading to over 2,500 cases where benefit valued at over £17m was stopped or reduced, overpayment recovery was initiated and, where appropriate, sanctions including convictions through the courts were secured.
In June, this newspaper reported how less than a quarter of suspected benefit frauds result in prosecution.

In the five years to April, a total of 8,092 investigations were identified. Across the same period, 1,963 benefit fraud cases came before the courts - just 24%.

In the last 12 months, there were 1,157 investigations and 302 cases were brought to court.

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