Treasury looks to crack down as state pensions are paid to the dead

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The Independent Online

Stephen Timms, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, is pressing for a reform of the state pension system, which is estimated to have cost the Exchequer more than £4bn since 1997. The idea is to use the death certificates issued by doctors to help eliminate illegal payments which continue to be made to pensioners after their death.

In a recent case in Bourne- mouth, a 70-year-old pensioner, Joyce Cheney, admitted conning the Department for Work and Pensions out of £91,357 by continuing to claim pension and attendance and invalid care allowance for 15 years after the death of her mother, Rose Saunders, in June 1987. The fraud was discovered when a benefits inspector called to find out whether she was in line for a telegram from the Queen for her 100th birthday.

Cheney, who had forged her dead mother's signature and passed herself off as her agent, was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence.

Mr Timms, who is MP for East Ham, wrote last Monday to Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. His letter backs the idea of Michael Royde, an independent financial adviser and long-time campaigner against pension fraud, who wants a copy of every death certificate, containing the relevant national insurance number, to be sent to the DWP.

The department would then have the evidence to halt all pension payments falsely claimed in the name of a deceased person.

"Doctors should be given an extra £10 for the service. That would do a great deal to halt the abuse", said Mr Royde. "And the likely benefits from the savings in fraud would more than cover the cost of the Government's Pension Protection Fund which aims to protect pensioners from the collapse of pension pro- viders. Fraud concerning state pension is likely to get worse as all pensioners are encouraged to open bank accounts."

The DWP originally turned down Mr Royde's idea. But in his letter, Mr Timms suggests; "Could it be reconsidered?"

A government crackdown could also save businesses a lot of money, and serve as a warning to irresponsible relatives and pension fraudsters.