Plaskitt announces success of new technology to combat benefit fraud and further funding

There will be funding for a further 15 local authority pilot projects to test an innovative new technology to catch out benefit fraudsters, announced Anti-Fraud Minister, James Plaskitt today.

He made the announcement to fund additional pilots and to extend the existing ones after initial results from seven pilots across 14 local authorities proved successful. Mr Plaskitt was visiting Harrow council, one of the seven authorities which piloted the new Voice Risk Analysis (VRA) technology.

Mr Plaskitt said:

"This positive and encouraging news from the pilots shows that this technology is helping to combat benefit fraud. It is also making it quicker and easier to review claims, especially for those people who are genuinely entitled to benefits.

"Harrow council is one of seven local authority pilots nationwide, who have already recognised that this cutting edge technology can be used to stop criminals and is a unique weapon in the fight against benefit fraud.

"Overall, the huge majority of people who receive benefits are entitled to them. However, there is a minority who will still try to steal money from those people who are most vulnerable. We need to continue to do more to make sure that taxpayers' money always goes to those who need it the most."

VRA technology spots changes in a caller's voice enabling trained operators to decide whether a call is high or low risk and what further action to take. Initial results from the pilots have shown that the risk-ratings made using VRA have been successful. Of the cases rated as high risk, an estimated thirty per cent identified a change that we wouldn't have otherwise known about.

James Plaskitt also announced further funding of 1.5 million and invited local authorities to consider applying for the funding to run pilots of their own. Jobcentre Plus is also undertaking its own test activity. The evaluation results will be available at the end of August 2008.


Notes to Editors

* Harrow Council working in partnership with Capita launched the first test of VRA in a public service environment on 21 May 2007 to carry out phone reviews of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit claims. The intention is to improve customer service by lessening the intrusion and cost of the review process, which currently is postal and visit driven, with low risk cases being asked to forward verification of any changes, but not being subject to any more intense review processes. This approach will allow for those identified as high risk to be subject to further action, such as a home visit or fraud investigation if appropriate.

* Calls are handled by operators trained in intelligent questioning and various forms of behavioural analysis which allows them to assess the level of risk in the conversation. In addition, Voice Risk Analysis (VRA) technology is used to support the operator's analysis. The technology analyses changes in voice frequency and performs thousands of mathematical calculations, resulting in the identification of different categories of emotional content. The patterns associated with these categories allow the technology to identify genuine callers.

* At the beginning of each call, the characteristics of a customer's voice frequency are sampled in order to establish a benchmark - taking into account any pre-existing emotions. The benchmark is used during a conversation as a guide for analysing changes in frequency caused by changes in emotions.

* Fraud in all benefits has been reduced from around 2bn in 2001 to an estimated 0.8bn in 2006/07. So the Government and local authorities have reduced fraud across all the benefits system by nearly two thirds since 2001.

* Fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance is down from around 10.4% (1,220m) of expenditure in the baseline year 1997/98 to around 5.3%, or 610m, of Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance expenditure. Around 5.3%, or 760m, of Housing Benefit expenditure is estimated to have been overpaid.

* Sanctions (prosecutions, cautions and administrative penalties) imposed by the DWP and local authorities have increased more than four-fold since 1997/98 to over 51,000 in 2006/07. The Fraud Act 2001 gave fraud investigators more powers to catch and punish offenders, including greater powers to check records with other organisations.

* The DWP, in partnership with local authorities, is carrying out more prosecutions and sanctions against fraudsters than ever before - in 2005/06 there were over 52,000 prosecutions and sanctions. The Fraud Act 2001 gave fraud investigators more powers to catch and punish offenders, including greater powers to check records with other organisations.

* The National Benefit Fraud Hotline number is 0800 854 440. Lines are open between 7am and 11pm seven days a week or you can report a cheat online via:

* Capita Group, in conjunction with Digilog UK, assisted in the development and implementation of the pilot for the pilot local authorities. This involved supplying the system, advising on its use and training.


Published on: 2008-05-07

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