A path to smart systems

Public sector finance: Paul Gosling on a new scheme to cut benefit fraud

The establishment by the Benefits Agency and the Post Office of a pounds 1bn smart computer system to virtually eliminate fraud from state benefits could mark the beginning of a radical change in the delivery of public services. Similar technology has wide-ranging potential applications in healthcare, housing and, most controversially, in public order.

The Pathway consortium, which has won the new contract, already has proven experience in running similar, if smaller, systems. One of the partners is An Post, the Irish post office, which has installed an automated benefits- payment system in more than 600 post offices, achieving big savings by reducing fraud, while improving service standards by cutting the time taken to serve customers.

The lead partner, ICL, has established automated anti-fraud systems in 1,500 London post offices, making savings of pounds 60m last year.

Under the terms of the Private Finance Initiative contract, the pounds 1bn cost of the project will be met by the private-sector partners, but will be recovered by a contribution from the expected pounds 150m annual savings from fraud reduction. If, in the event, criminals are able to defraud the system, the Pathway members will bear the cost.

It will take two years before all of the UK's 20,000 post offices and 20 million benefit recipients will be linked into the system. The cards will first be issued to people entitled to child benefit, in the expectation that they will be the most familiar and comfortable with plastic cards. Subsequently, the cards will be issued to all those entitled to state benefits, including war pensioners.

Initially, they will be swipe cards, producing a read-out on a computer screen of how much benefit is payable. As an additional safeguard against fraud, card holders will be required to sign their names, for signature comparison, and, on an occasional basis, will be asked for personal information, which only they are likely to know.

Eventually, if the Government so chooses, the swipe card could be replaced by a smart card, with a small computer chip on the reverse. A single card could then be multi-purpose, for various public bodies, if the political will is there.

Clare Birks, government consulting principal at IBM, says the applications of smart cards elsewhere indicate the way ahead. In Portugal - and Spain is soon to follow suit - cards are issued so that electronic kiosks can be used to apply for unemployment benefit and for job searches. "They are already used in France for health records. A rapid take-up is more likely as identification cards in the Far East, where there are not the same political difficulties, and in South Africa."

The use of smart cards to improve access to health records excites David Cooper, account director of Hoskyns, a leading information technology outsource operator and consultant.

"But they would not be comprehensive health records - the memory on the cards is not big enough for that," Mr Cooper says. "You could put on the identification of an individual any emergency information, and the information to allow the person reading it to get into where the health records are kept. The big opportunity is for private healthcare, particularly when going abroad."

The Ministry of Defence is examining the potential for smart cards for service personnel based overseas, to store health and other personal details. Smart cards could also be used for selling government information, something Canada is investigating. Details of land and property could be released by government departments to legal firms, if their smart card accounts were in credit.

Museums might hand out the smart card's relative, the "active badge", being developed by Olivetti, as a means of recording which activities and displays visitors spent most time on, so resources could be allocated accordingly. Active badges are also likely to have a market for improving security in public buildings and for ensuring supervision of residents in sheltered housing while giving them more freedom to roam.

But it is a matter of political sensitivity rather than practicality that will determine progress. Is the public willing to see smart cards used by the police, to check a person's identification, criminal record and right to be in the country?

John Adamson, a public sector partner at Coopers & Lybrand, says: "The main problem in the UK is data protection and civil liberties. They are being used in Spain with bio-metric details, such as finger prints and physical appearance, for verification."

The British, though, are thought to be sensitive about such matters. Politicians will be watching the public reaction to the Pathway programme very closely.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Reach Volunteering: Trustee – PR& Marketing, Social Care, Commercial skills

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...

    Reach Volunteering: Charity Treasurer

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Crossroads Care is s...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000: SThree: We consistently strive to be ...

    Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

    £50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin