Budget Special: Fraud line burns hot as callers queue to snitch

THE BUDGET AND YOU: Benefits hotline
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The Independent Online
The national benefit fraud hotline, the Government's anonymous tip-off service for information on benefit fraudsters, has received more than 100,000 calls in three months.

Since its launch in August, the hotline has taken an average of 150 calls an hour from people offering information. Backed by a pounds 500,000 advertising campaign with a catchline: "Know of a benefit rip-off? Give us a telephone tip-off," Benefits Agency staff were initially anticipating a response of around 2,000 calls a week.

The scheme is part of the Government's five-year "Spotlight on benefit cheats" campaign, launched by the Secretary of State for Social Security, Peter Lilley, in April of this year.

The Benefits Agency says that the scheme has saved over pounds 50m in its first seven months of operation.

Mr Lilley has also introduced a new swipe card for claimants replacing benefit books. The new benefit payment card, currently piloting in the South-west of England, is swiped through a scanner by post office staff who ask personal details before handing over cash. The Benefits Agency hopes to save up to pounds 200m a year with the scheme.

A special team is also to be set up in London to combat the growing army of landlords who defraud the Government of millions of pounds in housing benefit.

A new tracing service aimed at tracking down benefit cheats has also been launched as part of the Government's five-year programme to combat fraud.

The new arrangement, between the Contributions Agency and the Benefits Agency of the Department of Social Security, will make it easier for employment details to be matched against social security claims.

In future the P46 form, issued when someone who has not previously been in employment starts work, will be passed to the Contributions Agency and then on to the Benefits Agency enabling them to check that the new employee is no longer claiming social security benefit.

The flow of information between the two agencies in the past has been "sluggish", a spokesman said yesterday, and it is hoped the new service will save millions of pounds.