DSS backs checks of bank accounts

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The Government is to bring in legislation empowering ministers to inspect people's bank accounts as part of a renewed crackdown on benefit cheats and tax evaders.

The Government is to bring in legislation empowering ministers to inspect people's bank accounts as part of a renewed crackdown on benefit cheats and tax evaders.

As disclosed in The Independent, the Department of Social Security is backing plans in which its computers could be linked to those of banks to enable benefit staff to run instant checks on claimants.

The move was part of the recommendations put forward by Lord Grabiner QC, who earlier this year headed an inquiry ordered by the Treasury into the black economy.

Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Social Security, said yesterday that social security fraud was costing the Government at least £4bn every year. "It is in the best interests of everyone, including business, to help the fight against fraud," he said, "not least because firms operating in the informal economy [are] using the benefits system to subsidise their business costs." However, David Willetts, the shadow Secretary of State for Social Security, said: "This Government has pledged consistently to crack down on fraud. But it is clear from their record these promises aren't worth the paper they are written on."

Later, during question time, Labour backbenchers criticised the Government for its "gimmick" winter fuel payments to pensioners.

Michael Connarty, MP for Falkirk East, warned that the Government's "credibility" was at stake unless pensioners had an across-the-board increase in their weekly benefit, which for a single person rose by only 75p at the last annual upgrade.

He launched his attack after Mr Darling conceded that the number of pensioners living in poverty had gone up slightly.

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