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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

The government had spent nearly£1bn on its verification framework, aimed at reducing housing benefit fraud, for 'a net win of£100m annually', Archy Kirkwood, Liberal Democrat chairman of the commons select committee on work and pensions, told MPs.

He said that information came from recent written answers by ministers and departmental research.

Bearing that in mind, along with some of the administrative delays caused by the framework, Mr Kirkwood asked junior work and pensions minister Malcolm Wicks to conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

Mr Kirkwood acknowledged that much rightly had been done to tackle different forms of benefit fraud. However, more than a year ago the department decided to undertake a housing benefit review. So far, MPs had not heard any more about that.

Mr Wicks said the department was conducting research to produce an up-to-date figure for the amount of housing benefit fraud.

'We are not complacent, but we feel that the money we are spending will rpove cost-effective', said Mr Wicks.

'More and more local authorities are safeguarding the system by adopting the verification framework. They can now adopt chunks at a time, by means of a modular approach'.

The government believed it was begging to win the war against benefit fraud, but much more needed to be done.

Mr Wicks told shadow secretary of state for work and pensions David Willetts that it was tackling the abuse of national insurance. Unlike previous administrations, it now employed rigorous processes when people applied for them, and a number were turned down every week.

Mr Willetts said there were more than 80 million national insurance numbers - over 20 million more than the entire British population. Whatever the minister said about deceased husbands of widows and suchlike, there was still a problem: far more national insurance numbers were being issued than there were people who legitimately need them.

Mr Wicks replied: 'We are conducting an exercise so that we can explain fully to the house why the numbers in existence are in existence, but when someone dies, the widow or widower's entitlement is an issue. Common sense suggests that the national insyrance number should therefore be retained.'

Hansard 20 May 2002: Column 16-18

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