Experian and benefit fraud

Peter Tomlinson pwt at iosis.co.uk
Wed Aug 11 14:25:17 BST 2010

Andrew McLean wrote:
>  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:
> http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/nfi/Pages/default.aspx
> 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"?
It is the lack of accountability of these private companies that is the 
real problem. I have just been reading in the Independent the story of 
the man who is credit blacklisted because some years ago he was studying 
in France and received regular funds transfer from relatives in the UK - 
he has a 'money laundering' flag against him. And the blog on the web 
site of Lynne Featherstone MP, Equalities Minister, has many compalints 
about the reassessment of disability benefit claimants - due process not 
followed, and, it seems, no independent auditor present at the 
assessments. All these contracts that potentially affect the lives of 
individuals need a visible and robust accountability process in place 
before they are actioned.


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