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Benefits system needs to reach those most in need

23 January, 2008

Sinn Féin MLA John O Dowd, who is Chair of the Public Accounts Committee has said the Audit Office Report into Social Security Benefit fraud must not be used as a witch hunt against the poor or an excuse to make benefits even less accessible to those in need.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"The headline figures on fraud are a matter of concern, a total of £18.1m lost to fraud, however the other figures contained in the report are also worthy of examination, staff error £28m and customer error £14m a staggering loss to the public purse.

"What also must be of concern is the unclaimed benefits which for 2006-7 were estimated to be £21.8m research shows that those benefits not claimed usually belong to some of the most vulnerable in our society such as the elderly, some of whom live in object poverty unaware of their right to benefits or how to claim them. These figures do not include the tens of millions of pounds of unclaimed monies through disability Living Allowance.

"The amount of monies lost in fraud cannot continue. There are those who are career fraudsters however there are those who just to make ends meet do not declare all earnings. To end this we must tackle poverty and disadvantage as a way of taking people off benefits if we are to truly successful in bringing down the amount of money lost to fraud.

"There is a particular onus on the Social Security agency to ensure all those entitled to benefit receive their full entitlement and the loss of £18 m to the public purse by staff error is greatly reduced." ENDS

Notes to Editor

The Public Accounts Committee will hold its inquiry into Benefit Fraud on the 14th and 21st of February 2008.

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