Computer says 'No' - lie detectors trap benefit cheats

Voice risk analysis saves council £330k

Voice risk analysis saves council £330k

Computer voice analysis is being used to root out benefit cheats - helping to save a council more than £300,000.

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The Voice Risk Analysis (VRA) system has helped Harrow Council save £336,711 in benefit pay outs and stop 43 incorrect payments.

The Capita VRA system is being trialled by 12 UK councils and works by detecting stress patterns - such as hesitation or changing of answers - in the voice of callers to indicate whether they might be lying.

Since Harrow began the £63,000 trial in May last year, more than a quarter of claimants said they no longer required benefits as their circumstances had changed - double the rate of previous voluntary admissions.

Only five per cent of people refused to use the VRA system when told of the pilot being run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The system identified 119 of 998 people assessed (12 per cent), as being at "high risk" of dishonesty - with 43 of those subsequently found to be on incorrectly paid benefits.

The government estimates benefit fraud cost around £700m in the financial year 2006/07, while Harrow Council alone lost £250,000 through fraudulent claims over the same period.

Griselda Colvin, head of benefits at Harrow Council, said: "It is ensuring that we are paying the right people the right benefit entitlement and we are paying them quicker. We have had a huge increase in the number of people coming forward and saying 'my income has gone up' or 'my rent has decreased'. I would say it is the technology and the threat of the system that has given us the results."

Harrow's saving was made up of £284,461 in housing benefit and £52,249 in council tax benefit - the two areas in which the 12-month trial of the technology is being tested.

The system is also being used in Birmingham, Chester-le-Street, Coventry, Derwentside, Durham, Edinburgh, Hinckley and Bosworth, Lambeth, Rochford, Sedgefield, Warwick and Wealden.

It is also being piloted within Lincoln Contact Centre and Jobcentres in the Nottinghamshire district.

A DWP spokesman said: "This technology will actually support customers and has the potential to improve the claims process whilst deterring fraudulent claims. We will be conducting a full evaluation in due course."

A potentially fraudulent benefit claim is not dismissed purely on the grounds of the VRA identifying somebody as "high risk", it is instead used as a trigger to prompt further questioning and investigation by the council's benefit fraud team.