Social Security Fraud Act 2001.
If you want to read the Act (it's here , but I warn you, it's tedious). You should read it, though, just to see how few rights benefit claimants have.
As you'll know from my blog, a friend of mine
has fallen foul of the fact that, under the terms of
the Act, the benefits authorities can invade anybody's privacy (access bank
accounts, utility accounts, mortgage records and a whole lot more, all without
the consent or knowledge of the claimant), and disrupt the lives of innocent
citizens just on the off-chance that they may be committing fraud - presumed
guilty until proven innocent, it seems. The "shop a benefit fraud"
hotline, of course, simply exacerbates the problem by maintaining the anonymity
of the caller (surely no-one should be allowed to make claims of criminal
activity against anyone anonymously?), and encouraging malicious calls.
A friend of mine has fallen foul of this, being repeatedly shopped by a deranged neighbour, sparking off a full-scale (and fruitless), investigation every time, which must be a colossal waste of public money, not to mention the massive distress this causes. My friend, like me, has ME, and she simply doesn't need this crap.
Anyway, having written to the Observer on the subject, I was moved to write to my MP, Frank Field (Birkenhead), to see what he thought of it, and see if he could offer any helpful advice (and how wrong I was!) - this is the email thread as at November 8 2006 (to be fair, I have no way of knowing if the emails purporting to be from Frank Field actually are from him, or just a minion):-
I am writing concerning the above Act, which must surely be one of the most egregious pieces of legislation to find its way onto the statute books in modern times. This law, as you doubtless know, allows DPW snoops to turn someone's life upside down, and investigate virtually every aspect of it - without either their consent or knowledge - on the strength of an anonymous telephone call, using the execrable "shop a benefit fraud" line. This smacks of Soviet Russia, not the UK in the 21st century. And, of course, experience has shown that virtually every alleged fraud has been proven innocent: 132,000 complaints, a mere 160 proven (source taxpayersalliance.com), obviously a colossal waste of taxpayers money, not to mention the distress caused to innocent victims.
I have a friend who is being driven close to a breakdown by the actions of a malicious (and arguably deranged) neighbour, who makes repeated, anonymous, and false, allegations of fraud. My friend has been investigated repeatedly - to absolutely no avail. My friend is not committing, and never has committed, benefit fraud (or any other kind!), and her treatment at the hands of the DWP (and their predecessors) has been little short of disgraceful.
I have a serious problem with this, not least the aspect that allows people to make allegations of criminal activity, without the slightest evidence, and remain anonymous, leaving the victim without the slightest redress. This cannot be right, and it surely has to change. (And in case you're wondering how I know who made the anonymous calls, the neighbour has boasted about it, and clearly intends a repeat performance at some point.)
Dear Ron Graves
Thanks for writing to me. You did not say whether you were a constituent or whether the friend on whose behalf you are writing, is a constituent. Always useful to know this.
I am surprised you found the Act so oppressive. I find the opposite is true and that the vast majority of incidences of alleged fraud referred to the Department result in no action whatsoever.
I would suggest to your friend that she contacts the police and asks what action they might take if somebody is continuing to make unfounded allegations.
With best wishes
Dear Mr. Field,
Yes, we're both constituents.
It's simply not true that no action whatsoever results from allegations of fraud, as they are rigorously investigated, and it's little consolation to the innocent party that their life has been turned upside down for no good reason. How would you feel, Mr. Field, if every aspect of your life came under investigation, your bank account(s) rummaged through, and you were questioned - repeatedly and charmlessly (DWP investigators apparently assuming that one is guilty until proven innocent), when you knew that you were guilty of absolutely nothing, especially if you were chronically sick, to boot? I doubt you'd view the Act with such equanimity then.
What I resent about the Act is that it allows anonymous callers to allege anything they like, without having to provide the slightest evidence - there is simply no justification for anonymity (offer a reward for information and they'd give their names readily enough!). If I were to telephone the police and say, anonymously, "Frank Field is fiddling his expenses," the complaint would be promptly binned. If, however, you were a benefit claimant, and I were to say to the DWP that you were fiddling your claim - and do so not once, but repeatedly - I somehow doubt that the resulting investigations would leave you feeling well-disposed towards the anonymous complainant, against whom you would have no redress whatsoever, even were you aware of their identity.
Note: women who allege rape have their identity protected, yet they are known to the police and, presumably, the CPS. I see no reason why people alleging benefit fraud should not be subject to the same conditions - total anonymity in the allegation of criminal acts, including benefit fraud, is not acceptable.
I have no objection to benefit fraud being clamped down on, except that it simply doesn't exist at the levels this government seems to believe - it's become an obsession, and the intrusive measures allowed by the Act cannot be justified.
And my friend has been to the police but, as I'm sure you know, knowledge isn't the same as evidence.
The bottom line, though, is that the police simply are not interested.
Dear Ron Graves
Thanks for your latest email. I have advocated that our expenses should be independently audited over and above what happens now. I think you as a taxpayer have a right to expect that and I have the right to expect the same diligence over benefit payments. Do you not agree?
With best wishes
Yes, of course I agree, but you are entirely missing the point. I have to ask - are you being deliberately obtuse?
Dear Ron Graves
No I think it is you who is being obtuse. I have no objection to being investigated and I don't expect my constituents either to have objections. And by the way who is your friend? Why don't they contact me directly?
With best wishes
I'm sorry, Mr. Field, but I am not sure that you and I inhabit the same planet. You are entirely missing my point about your financial affairs being investigated. I am not saying that you are worthy of investigation, but that, if you were to be investigated to the same degree as benefit claimants, you would surely take great exception to it.
The reason, by the way, that my friend doesn't contact you directly is that she has no confidence that getting in touch with you would not be prejudicial to her situation. My personal view was that contacting you might be useful. It seems that I was wrong.
To make things perfectly clear, what I am objecting to - above - is not that anyone legitimately suspected of benefit fraud should be investigated (and prosecuted if appropriate), but that allegations of fraud can be made, anonymously, by anyone at all, and with no redress when the accused, after having their bank accounts, and pretty much any other financial records, rummaged through without their knowledge or consent, and investigated with a zeal that strongly suggests that they are perceived as guilty until proven innocent, are found to be innocent. No redress, and no apology either.
This is completely unnacceptable.
It simply encourages malicious allegations, as it has the the case of a friend - and no doubt in a great many other cases too.
It's worth pointing out that official figures show that out of more than 132,000 suspects have been reported - but there have been only 160 successful prosecutions, according to recent figures at the time of writing. (The link confirming these figures has been removed, as it is no longer functional.)
My next step is to contact Liberty, the civil liberties organisation, as I cannot see that this Act is in any way compatible with Human Rights legislation.