Benefit claimants to face lie detectors

Benefit claimants will be subjected to routine lie detector tests in an attempt to reduce fraud, the work and pensions minister John Hutton has announced.

People claiming benefits over the phone will be monitored by voice-risk analysis software, which the government claims is capable of detecting lies and helping council staff identify suspect claims.

Mr Hutton said: “The vast majority of people who receive benefits are genuinely entitled to them. However, there is a minority who are intent on stealing money from those who need it most.

“This technology-based process aims to tackle these fraudsters while speeding up claims and improving customer service for the honest majority.”

The software records the claimant’s “normal” voice at the beginning of the call and then picks up minute changes in speech which can indicate a lie. The software is already used by the insurance industry to combat fraud and Mr Hutton claimed it would lead to a quicker and more efficient service.

Harrow council will pilot the technology from May. Initially it will be tested on housing and council tax benefit claims and rolled out to Job Seekers later in the year.

Announced a day after the Home Office confirmed plans to extend the use of ‘talking CCTV’, the government has been accused of relying on gimmicks rather than effective policies.

The Liberal Democrats said the software was a “gimmick” that could only be used in a tiny minority of cases.

“If the government really wants to reduce the amount of fraud in the system, then it must tackle the complexity of benefits such as tax and pension credits,” said work and pensions spokesman David Laws.

“It must also introduce common sense measures, such as cross-checking other benefit claims, which unbelievably have often been ignored.”

However, Harrow council says it is pleased to be testing the technology.

Its deputy leader David Ashton, said: “Our benefits team is already the best in London and one of the best in the country. But we want to improve our processing rates even more.

“This new scheme will let us process the majority of claimants who are bona fide more quickly and look more closely at those who potentially seek to defraud the borough of valuable resources.”

The government says benefit fraud cost the UK around £0.7 billion in 2005-06, although existing reforms have already cut fraud by nearly two-thirds since 2001.

The Conservatives said the government needs to review the wider system not rely on “Big Brother” initiatives, arguing the complexity of the benefits system is to blame for fraud.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Phillip Hammond: “The real reason fraudsters find it so easy to con the British taxpayer is the complexity of Gordon Brown’s benefit system. We need a simpler, fairer system with fewer loopholes for fraudsters to exploit.

“This initiative is only aimed at tackling a small part of the problem. There is more than twice as much taxpayer’s money lost through error than through fraud.”