Gov’t and business to pool clients' personal data

Government departments such as the DWP and private sector bodies will share the information they hold in order to detect tax, welfare and insurance fraud, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

A new service is being set up to help businesses and government bodies share data with each other, as part of a push to crack down on tax, welfare and insurance fraud.

Francis Maude

Francis Maude has unveiled a new anti-fraud service where the private and public sectors will share data. Photo credit: Cabinet Office

The government and the National Fraud Authority will map out the Counter Fraud Checking Service by April, the Cabinet Office announced on Monday. It builds on trials that pooled information on known fraudsters, drawn from public and private sector organisations. Based on these trials, the service is expected to have a "huge impact", the Cabinet Office said.

"Criminals don't work in silos, and neither should we. A successful partnership between the public and private sectors will make a dramatic difference to the speed and accuracy of detecting fraud," Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said in a statement.

"Sharing data and creating this checking service will mean that the government can adopt a 'check first, then pay' approach," he added.

The government plans to share the personal information it holds with businesses such as banks, insurance companies and credit reference agencies, a Cabinet Office spokeswoman told ZDNet UK. The checking system will likely involve the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which holds National Insurance (NI) data, and  HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which has tax details.

"Organisations such as DWP and HMRC, who have the largest databases, already operate tracing systems for other public sector organisations to access data on debtors, and these services should be used more widely," Maude said in an announcement speech. "This will for the first time join up fraud data across the public and private sector."

A trial project between the DWP and the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB), an insurance industry body, saw the government department share 19,000 records on suspected fraudulent NI numbers. Ninety-two percent of the records matched data on 70,000 fraudulent insurance claims held by the IFB, the Cabinet Office said.

"We can't be hindered here by an outmoded view that data-matching is somehow akin to creating a Big Brother database," Maude said in his speech. "New technology now gives us the option to share data momentarily allowing us to check for matches."

Concerns about keeping to data protection laws hold many organisations back from pooling information, according to the Cabinet Office's spokeswoman. They are particularly focused on compliance with Section 29 of the Data Protection Act, which deals with crime and taxation, she said.

The Information Commissioner's Office said it is talking to the government to make sure such the checking service project complies with data protection law.

"We are aware of the Cabinet Office and National Fraud Authority's plans to tackle fraud, error and debt, and are in regular contact with them," said an ICO spokeswoman told ZDNet UK.

"Any new scheme involving the sharing of personal data must comply with the Data Protection Act. We will continue to work closely with both bodies and associated stakeholders to ensure that individuals' information rights are protected," she added.

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