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Social Security ‘Lie Detector Tests’ unworkable

5 April, 2007

Sinn Fein Newry Armagh Assembly member Mickey Brady has said that the announcement by Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton that lie detectors machines will be used in an effort to help catch benefit claimants is unworkable and will place barriers on genuine people making claims for a broad ranch of benefits.

Mr Brady, who has spent many years as a Welfare Rights worker, said:

"Like everything in life there will always be a small number of people who will try to cheat the system but the announcement that people ringing up to claim for various benefits might have their query analysed by a new so-called 'voice-risk analysis software' is a step in the wrong direction.

"The new system is now on a trial run in parts of England will be brought in here if deemed successful. This software analyses changes in a caller's voice giving an indication of risk levels. Changes are measured against the caller's 'normal' voice recorded at the beginning of the call. If benefit staff assess the answers as suspicious, the caller may be asked to provide further evidence to support their claim.

"People applying for various benefits are under enough stress attempting to fill in lengthy applications forms and having to answer complex questions without having to worry about this latest gimmick. In many cases applicants already have to attend face to face interviews with benefit staff so there is no real need for the introduction of this test as I have a fear it will put off genuine claimants from making claims.

"Millions of pounds in benefits go unclaimed each year and rather than focus on a small number of benefit cheats the Department would be better off ensuring those genuine applicants receive what they are entitled to.

"Only last year a report from DSD highlighted the fact that:

  • Between £3 million and £72 million of Income Support went unclaimed annually and the average number of people entitled to Income Support but not claiming it was between 2,000 and 23,000.
  • Between £57 million and £134 million of Pension Credit was unclaimed annually. The average number of pensioners entitled to Pension Credit but not claiming it was between 39,000 and 74,000 (almost as many who claim the benefit - 79,000 people receiving £234 million worth of Pension Credit).
  • Between £9 million and £51 million in Housing Benefit went unclaimed annually. The average number of people entitled to Housing Benefit and not claiming it was between 5,000 and 24,000.
  • Between £3 million and £35 million of Jobseekers Allowance (Income-Based) went unclaimed annually. The average number of people entitled to this benefit and not claiming it was between 2,000 and 14,000.

"These figures showed that between 48,000 and 133,000 people are not claiming between £72 and £292 million in benefits that they are entitled to. This includes anything up to 74,000 pensioners being deprived of up to £134 million in unclaimed Pension credit.

"These are people who are fully entitled to these unclaimed benefits, people who represent some of the most marginalised in our society.

"This approach in targeting the relatively small numbers of people engaged in benefit fraud pales into insignificance compared to the thousands of people who are getting the support that they deserve." ENDS

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