Non-existent children who cost pounds 100m

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The Independent Online
Tens of thousands of families could be claiming child benefit for children who do not exist, who have died or who are no longer eligible, according to an official report published yesterday.

The report says that 76,000 blank birth certificates have been stolen and could be used in frauds. It adds that thousands of 16-18 year-olds could still be on the benefit list even though they have left school.

Although the figures in the report do not give a clear indication of the size of the problem, one Conservative committee member suggested that the fraud could be costing the taxpayer more than pounds 100m a year.

At a press conference yesterday Frank Field, the Labour chairman of the Social Security Select Committee, said the Department of Social Security had appeared unwilling to accept that it was vulnerable to such fraud. "Here is part of the department that has been asleep. It is thought that fraud cannot operate in this area," he said.

The report shows that while the DSS paid benefit to around 970,000 parents of 16-18 year-olds, the Department for Education and Employment had records of only 617,000 still in full-time education. Teenagers who leave school before they are 18 cease to be eligible for benefit.

Much of the discrepancy stems from the fact that one department bases its figures on the young person's age in August while the other uses December, and from the fact that the definitions of "full-time" education differ. However, the figures "still do not seem to tally", the report says.

In some cases children who are in receipt of benefit have died or never existed, the report says. In others, families who have left the country continue to claim. A check on 44,000 embarkation records showed that 10 per cent were still receiving benefit.

The Commons Report on Child Benefit Fraud; pounds 11.30; Stationery Office, PO box 276, London, SW8 5DT.