Data and link: Questions to ask about benefit fraud in Nottingham

NCCLOLS reports on the need for more rigorous reporting in the Nottingham Post following a story on an increase in benefit fraud prosecutions, with plenty of useful links to data that the newspaper could have used:

“It would have been helpful if the Post had asked NCC [Nottingham City Council] whether detected fraud had also increased as this would at least help answer the ‘changed/not changed prosecution policy’ question i.e. if greater detected fraud occurred along with more prosecutions then we could conclude ‘no change’. On the other hand, if you assume that any organisation would get better at finding fraud over time** (practice makes perfect and all that) then if there isn’t an increase in fraud then it may not be unreasonable to conclude that NCC has merely toughened its stance. It has to be said that NCC doesn’t seem to actually find much benefit fraud, managing to find fraud worth only 0.24% of total benefit expenditure in 2009, about 10% of the national rate. This means that the margin of error is larger and any claim of an increase is less significant. The fact that we’re talking about an increase in prosecutions from 31 to 43 in a six month period reinforces this concern.

“We know that actual Housing Benefit expenditure has increased by nearly 20% in only two years (I think that’s known as ‘rocketing’ in the trade) and that is without doubt down to the worsening economic conditions. Would we also expect that fraud as a proportion of this expenditure would also increase? It would be worthwhile knowing if that is what is happening.

“If we had been given the figures for fraud I’d also want to be sure that they really were actual fraud as opposed to ‘fraud and error’ which is what tends to be reported in order to amplify the alarm bells further, the ‘error’ of course tending to combine official and customer error and leaving the general public to assume it’s all down to claimants. I’ve previously uncovered evidence of a perverse incentive for NCC to try and reclassify their own errors as customer error, combine this with clear evidence of the Benefits Service’s standards slipping in general and you’ve got a bit of a mess brewing.”

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