Benefit fraud and error cost 5.5bn pounds

Saturday, 27 May, 2006

MORE than £ 5.5 billion has been overpaid in benefits in the past five years, official figures showed yesterday.

The annual amount overpaid through fraud and error went down in the last financial year to £ 990 million from £ 1.1 billion the year before.

The figure, which covers Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance and Pension Credit, has fallen from £ 1.3 billion in 1997-8.

David Ruffley, Tory spokesman on welfare reform, said: "These latest figures expose the continuing incompetence of Department for Work and Pensions ministers.

Last year alone the figure was £ 1 billion. That would fund 36,000 new nurses a year, 30,000 new teachers at year, 26,000 policemen a year or 156,000 hip replacements a year."

A spokeswoman for the department said: "Any suggestion that this Government is complacent about fraud and error is rubbish. This is the first government even to measure fraud and error -a reflection of how seriously we take it.

"We are well on target to cut fraud and error in these areas by 50 per cent through a series of measures that resulted in nearly 9,000 successful prosecutions for benefit fraud last year.

"We have also introduced an error taskforce which reflects our determination to reduce the level of error."