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Technology is helping catch benefits cheats but there are doubts about a key case management system, according to a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO)

In Progress in tackling benefit fraud, the NAO praises the government's record in reducing fraud from an estimated £2bn in 2000-01 to £800m in 2006-07. The significant drop has been achieved through IT initiatives including data matching and the National Benefit Fraud Hotline, it says.

The NAO's last report on the subject in 2003 expressed concerns about the management information available to the Department for Work and Pensions. It said the department used a number of different IT systems, all of which required manual input and that these systems were not integrated and were often regionally based. Rekeying of data was leading to delays and errors.

Action taken by the department since then includes developing a more intelligence led approach to countering fraud, using a tool called Frisc (Fraud Referral and Intelligence Scoring Card) to prioritise cases.

In 2007 it started the roll out of a new case management system, Fraims (Fraud Referral and Intervention Management System), aimed at speeding up case management processes. Full roll out was expected by October 2007, but is now being staggered over a longer period "to take account of the complexity of the system". It should be in place by March 2008 and will have cost £65m.

Although it can streamline fraud case management, the NAO says Fraims does not, however, cover all of the lifecycle of cases.

For example, it does not support the counter-fraud activities of prosecutions and debt management. Due to the long delays in the project, there is scepticism among counter-fraud staff about how effective the system will be in delivering the expected improvements, such as documenting old case information.

NAO head Sir John Bourn said: "The Department for Work and Pensions has made tackling benefit fraud a priority and has made good progress in reducing fraud, which represents a substantial achievement by its staff. It is also ahead of other comparable countries in its measurement and understanding of benefit fraud."

Bourn also said the department's specific counter fraud activities cost £154m during 2006-07 and identified £106m of overpaid benefits. Although some of the department's initiatives lead to earlier interception of overpayments and may deter potential fraudsters, he said the department could do more to determine whether its activities are cost-effective.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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