Experian and benefit fraud

Andrew McLean lists at andros.org.uk
Wed Aug 11 13:06:04 BST 2010

  On 10/08/2010 17:03, Peter Fairbrother wrote:
> http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10922261
> The Gubbmint plans to get credit rating firms to check benefit claimants.
> "One firm, Experian, said it was in talks over a deal which could see
> it get a "bounty" for cheats it uncovers."
> "Experian said it already had a contract to look into new housing
> benefit claimants, in a deal agreed by the previous government. It
> expects the annual saving to be £17m."
> "Asked about civil liberty fears about the government using firms to
> look into benefit claimants' spending, [David Cameron] said: "I do not
> think people should be concerned."
> "If you are entitled to welfare and can claim it then you should claim
> it but if you are not entitled to it you should not get and should not
> claim it."
> Pity nobody asked him more directly about the privacy implications. If
> Experian are to check benefits claimants, they will need to cross
> check the claimants with Experian's records.
> Which means that Experian will need to have access to a constantly
> updated list of all claimants, and how much they get  ... wonder how
> much Experian are paying for *that* access?
> -- Peter Fairbrother

This sort of thing in already happening on quite a large scale. The 
biggest example is probably the Audit Commission's National Fraud 
Initiative (NFI). The official line will be found here:


A quick web search will turn up a lot of additional information, 
including responses to FOI requests at www.whatdotheyknow.com

One example of the NFI process involves the Council Tax (so called) 
Single Occupant Discount of 25%. The way the exercise works is that 
local councils are required by the Audit Commission to provide them with 
copies of both the (full) Electoral Register and the Council Tax 
Register. The Audit Commission then pay Experian to undertake a data 
matching exercise looking for properties in respect of with the 25% 
discount is claimed and where there is more than one person on the 
electoral register. A list of the "matches" is then provided to the 
relevant local authority to follow up.

It should be noted that there are perfectly valid circumstances where 
there will be more than one person on the electoral register at an 
address and where the 25% "single occupant" discount can be claimed 
(e.g. where all but one of the occupants is a student).  I think the 
Audit Commission take the view that the "matches" should be investigated 
because they have a higher risk of being fraudulent claims than 
non-matches. This seems plausible, although I haven't seen any evidence, 
not that I looked too hard.

I'm also not clear whether Experian are bringing anything to Council Tax 
Discount exercise other than their expertise at matching this sort of 
data. Although, matching addresses from two different databases like 
this may sound straightforward, believe me, I've tried it, it isn't. In 
contrast, it seems that the proposed exercises looking for benefit fraud 
may involve Credit Reference Agencies exploiting other data they have 
access to. I think my main concern about the latest proposal is 
information leakage to the Credit Reference agencies. Even if they don't 
directly exploit the information they are provided in order to carry out 
this exercise, might they be able to exploit "derived data"?

Andrew McLean

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