For the first time, an entire DSS ministerial team was despatched to 13 areas across the country to launch a campaign covering 21 towns, cities and boroughs. This nationwide campaign builds on the huge success of the National Benefit Fraud Hotline, which has received over 80,000 calls from members of the public since its launch in August.
Mr Lilley said: 'Benefit cheats costs the taxpayer some £3bn every year - the equivalent of 20 new hospitals or 120,000 teachers. Benefit fraud is a particularly selfish crime. Every pound lost through fraud is a pound that could be used by those in genuine need.
'People on modest incomes resent fraudsters who rip off the social security system and end up better off than honest hardworking people.
'My message to benefit cheats everywhere is clear: the net is tightening - stop now or you will be caught.'
Spotlight campaigns were launched today in the following areas:
Luton and Dunstable, Canterbury and Thanet, Waltham Forest and Redbridge, Exeter, Newport and Cwmbran, Coventry, Inverness, Leicester, Sheffield, Hull, Warrington and Widnes, Wigan & Leigh, Coatbridge, Clydebank and Dumbarton.
After two weeks of intensive local publicity to warn people to put their affairs in order, a crackdown will begin involving:
-- a 'freephone' hotline number - 0800 854 440 - to tell DSS staff in confidence about suspected fraud
-- local data-matching exercises to identify cases meriting investigation
-- special drives on types of employers and self- employed likely to be involved in benefit fraud
-- higher profile for housing benefit fraud, particularly where landlords may be involved
-- extra home visits on new and existing claimants
Since April this year Spotlights in 22 other areas have generated more than 14,000 phone calls from the public, and produced savings of over £40m.