Record benefit fraud found: Inquiries save pounds 558m in 'false applications'

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The Independent Online
SOCIAL SECURITY fraud teams prevented half a billion pounds of taxpayers' money reaching benefit cheats last year, according to government figures released yesterday.

Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, said a record saving of pounds 558m in pay-outs came mainly from successful investigations of more than 270,000 individual claimants found to have defrauded the system. Nine out of ten prosecutions were successful, he said.

Examples highlighted by the DSS yesterday include a recently jailed Bolton man who collected pounds 8,600 over 10 years by pretending his wife was his sister. Setting a pounds 1bn detection target, double last year's, Mr Lilley said savings on fake claims - mainly income support, child benefit and housing benefit administered by local authorities but excluding unemployment benefit - rose by pounds 100m over the past 12 months.

Mr Lilley plans a major fraud initiative for the autumn and is considering the introduction of identity cards, while for the first time since 1948 claimants have begun receiving new, more fraud-resistant order books.

John Butcher, Tory MP for Coventry South West, yesterday called for a clampdown on 'giro drop' addresses - empty properties from which benefit is fraudulently claimed.

Mr Butcher claimed his own inquiries had revealed 7,500 giro drops in the Birmingham, Walsall and Coventry areas. 'If these figures are typical of the national picture, then we have a major scandal on our hands,' he said.

Mr Butcher said a single person making giro drop claims would receive pounds 44 a week in income support and pounds 35 in housing benefit while working, or he or she might be living with another person while giving separate addresses.