Whitehall focus DWP outlines team approach to fraud

20 Oct 05
Whitehall departments are teaming up with government agencies and the private sector to launch a huge data-matching exercise designed to identify benefit fraudsters, tax cheats and absent parents.

21 October 2005

Whitehall departments are teaming up with government agencies and the private sector to launch a huge data-matching exercise designed to identify benefit fraudsters, tax cheats and absent parents.

A strategy document, published by the Department for Work and Pensions on October 14, outlines plans to pilot systems from 2006 to improve links between the DWP, Revenue & Customs and the Home Office, as well as agencies such as the Child Support Agency and private sector partners.

Reducing fraud in the benefits system: aims and ambitions, published by Work and Pensions Secretary David Blunkett and benefits minister James Plaskitt, reveals Whitehall's plans to link up with private sector credit reference agencies for the first time.

It also gives the government's first commitment to trial lie detectors that could be used on benefit claimants to prevent fraudulent claims.

Proposals to use a national identity card system to determine benefit entitlements are included, although the DWP told Public Finance that 'no commitment' has been made on how ID cards would be used in the battle against fraud.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke this week promised to limit ID card information to that contained in passports, which could restrict their use by the DWP.

Departments will also continue to share existing information about taxpayers and benefit claimants. For example, absent parents who have avoided detection by CSA staff could be identified by their tax records at Revenue & Customs.

The DWP's new strategy follows heavy criticism of the government's existing anti-fraud work by the Commons Public Accounts Committee, which last week claimed that around £3bn of public cash is lost to fraud and error every year. The DWP document claims a fraud figure of £900m.

A DWP spokeswoman said the new document 'outlines a degree of data-sharing previously unheard of' across government.

The DWP is also in discussions with outsourcing and IT firm Capita with a view to trialling 'voice stress analysis' telephone software – 'lie detectors' – which has helped to reduce insurance fraud.

Meanwhile, the DWP has revealed that the public makes 200,000 calls to the National Benefit Fraud Hotline every year. For every £1 spent running the system, the DWP has clawed back £9.

More moves as DfES mandarin takes new role Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell continued his shake-up of the senior civil service this week when, as expected, he announced a new role for Department for Education and Skills permanent secretary Sir David Normington.

Normington has agreed to become permanent secretary at the Home Office from January, a position that will be vacated by Sir John Gieve, who is to be the Bank of England's next deputy governor.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke, who worked closely with Normington when he was education secretary, had been pushing for his former mandarin to join him at Marsham Street.

Normington's switch means that O'Donnell has almost completed a radical overhaul of permanent secretaries since his own appointment to the top job in August.

It only remains for him to fill the DfES post. A Cabinet Office spokesman said that 'would be filled by open competition', which would include applicants from outside the civil service. Plans have also been made to appoint a temporary permanent secretary if the recruitment process is delayed.

The potential for the DfES to fill the post internally has decreased in recent months following the loss of several key staff – including former director general for schools, Peter Housden, who is the new permanent secretary at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

In total, the permanent secretaries at ten departments have retired or changed jobs since the summer, with almost all the major departments involved. The exception is the Department of Health, where Sir Nigel Crisp has remained.

Jonathan Baume, the FDA civil servants union's general secretary, said O'Donnell was 'shaping the top of Whitehall in his own image'.

'Diversity champion' set for each department

The Cabinet Office is to implement a ten-point plan to improve civil service diversity, including setting up a new body to represent Islamic staff.

Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell will unveil the programme in November, which includes plans for a 'diversity champion' on the board of every department.

The Cabinet Office has met its diversity targets in recent years, but senior staff want further improvements.

O'Donnell provided initial feedback on the new system when he appeared before a Commons' committee as Cabinet secretary for the first time last week.

He responded to MPs' concerns over reforms to the civil service. He said: 'At the moment we are working on a ten-point plan to increase diversity in the whole civil service.

'If… we relocate to areas where there are ethnically less diverse populations, that seems to me to be a case for us having to redouble our efforts to try to increase the ethnic diversity of those offices.'

Cabinet Office officials said they were working with the Treasury and Revenue & Customs to establish a Civil Service Islamic Society, as well as other groups representing religious or ethnic backgrounds.


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