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'Spotlight On Benefit Cheats', the anti-benefit fraud campaign will be focusing on Westminster and Camden from 29th April.

Oliver Heald, the social security fraud minister, today announced that these are the next areas to be targeted in a campaign which will extend to other parts of the UK over the next few months.

Some recent cases in other areas which have come to light include:

-- information we received that a customer on benefit was about to buy her council house in cash. Her circumstances were investigated and her claim for income support was withdrawn owing to her high level of financial assets

-- the details of nearly 10,000 taxi drivers were checked against benefit records and 1,800 investigations were carried out. This resulted in the withdrawal of 800 claims with benefit savings of over £1m

Extending the 'Spotlight' campaign, Mr Heald said: 'Benefit fraud across the country costs the taxpayer some £3bn a year. Every pound lost through fraud is a pound that could be going to those in genuine need.

The campaign is already running successfully in Croydon, Haringey and Enfield. Intensive publicity alerting local people to the new campaign will begin this week.

'The 'Spotlight' campaign aims to encourage those who have drifted into abusing the benefit system to report any changes in circumstances and put their claims right. Overpayments will be pursued as a matter of course but the fact that someone has come forward will be one of the factors taken into account when weighing up whether to take prosecution action, in particular for a minor offence.

'Spotlight has already proved highly successful in the initial areas it has been running. We have received nearly 700 calls to our fraud hotline which have resulted in more than 500 potential fraud referrals with a potential benefit saving of more than £600,000.

'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

'Let me stress that the choice of Westminster and Camden does not mean they have a particularly high level of fraud - indeed, fraud levels are broadly similar around the country, and this campaign will be targeting many other parts of the UK in the coming months. They were selected simply because they are compact areas where the DSS and other agencies are geared up for this project.'

The Benefits Agency detected more than £700m of fraud across the country last year. Fraud investigators are set to achieve savings of over £1bn in 1995/96. So far this year (April 1995 to February 1996) the Benefits Agencyhas detected fraud in Westminster & Camden totalling £3.5m.

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