Cheatlines to trap benefit fraudsters

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The Government will today launch a telephone hotline inviting the public to shop benefit swindlers under the slogan "Know of a benefit rip-off? Give us a telephone tip-off".

The campaign, to be backed by a pounds 500,000 press and poster advertising campaign, comes after the success of pilot, localised, "shop a cheat" hotlines which are claimed to have saved more than pounds 1m.

But Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, found himself accused of double standards by launching the scheme just a month after axing a benefit helpline, put there to ensure that those entitled to help received it.

Archy Kirkwood, the Liberal Democrats social security spokesman, said: "The balance of the Government's benefit strategy is sadly awry. Fraud detection is taking far too high a degree of priority over entitlement to benefit." Fraud had to be tackled, but better administrative systems were preferable to cheatlines, he added,

Labour said it would support any move to cut down on the present "massive" level of social security fraud. But it was "double standards" to cut the one line while introducing the other. "We need fairness in the system," Henry McLeish, the party's social security spokesman said.

Oliver Heald, the Social Security minister, claimed savings from fraud would go to those in need and the hotline would be self-financing. "The savings from the pilot schemes were remarkable," he said. Together with the 21 "spotlight" campaigns - where individual areas are targeted for benefit fraud - pounds 15m had been saved.

"We've had an overwhelming response from genuine benefit claimants who feel very strongly that other people are ripping the system off," he said.