In a meeting of Dog the Bounty Hunter and your local councillor, benefit claimants will in future be subjected to more onerous checks to ensure they do qualify for the benefits they are say they are entitled to.

This is so the government can cut the estimated £5.2 billion a year cost of fraud by about £1 billion.

Reported in the Telegraph it is expected that the Prime Minister will say that the level of benefit fraud has become ‘absolutely outrageous’ to the point that an ‘uncompromising’ response is needed.

The bounty hunters concerned will be credit referencing agencies (CRA) such as Experian.

Benefit claimants’ financial records will be subjected to the same sort of checks that credit card and loan applicant are expected to go through. That is both new and existing claimants.

The CRA will be given access to data from the Department of Works and Pensions and will be paid a bounty for each fraudulent claim they uncover.

There will be other checks as well, such as where ‘lifestyle’ conflicts with that claimed or where there is significant unexplained expenditure when on benefits. But the central plank to the whole process will be the CRA.

According to the Telegraph, Experian reported that it could save £1 billion, which included £600 million on housing fraud and £300 million on incapacity benefit.

This on the face of it looks a tough but fair way ahead. Until you realise that people are being paid to obstruct government help to the needy. By all means pay people to do a job, but a bounty to put obstacles in the way? Assuming everyone is a fraudster would be in danger of becoming the default position and people may suffer needlessly waiting for their benefits. Also, without benefits they may fall behind with other payments so that lenders use the CRA to check up on them too, a lot of moral danger here unless thought carefully through. Why is it being done this way? Those that work in the benefits office should apply for checks and payment of benefit should not wait for a response. But is should be made clear to the claimant before they go ahead that these checks are being done and it may result in clawback and legal action if they are found to be fraudulent.

But I will say that it shows some real business acumen by the Experian. Just as lending is going down the pan again and people need to be referenced less you come up with a plan whereby the government takes over and pays you instead.

One also assumes that these checks will be of the ‘soft’ variety that does not leave a footprint on the claimant’s record. Otherwise a future lender (or mobile phone operator) may see it.

The system also assumes that the CRA they use (there are three main ones – Experian, Equifax and Call Credit) has all the information on the claimant. But that may not always be the case. In fact, to be certain, you would probably need to check with all three.

I can understand that checks need to be done, but a private firm being given this power? Next we’ll have a private firm in charge of policing (oh, forgot, the Association of Chief Police Officers is a private firm).

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