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Government keeps pressure on benefit fraudsters

Government keeps pressure on benefit fraudsters

New strategies introduced by the Government to catch people committing benefit fraud are working, Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment Rick Barker said.

“In 1999 the Ministry of Social Development introduced early intervention programmes to prevent people getting caught up in a cycle of debt and fraud.

“The programmes ensure clients receive their full and correct entitlement and are aware of the obligation to inform Work and Income if their circumstances change.

“The Ministry has also run local public education campaigns to raise awareness of benefit entitlements and the consequences of committing fraud.

“At the same time the Ministry has got tougher on people caught committing benefit fraud and increased the number of prosecutions by 300%.

In 1996-1997, 534 people were prosecuted for benefit fraud but by 2001-2002, the number of prosecutions reached 1987.

In addition, Mr Barker said $260 million was recovered by Work and Income in 2002 from benefit clients.

“Increased prosecutions, coupled with early intervention programmes have seen both the amount of fraud detected and average size of individual fraud overpayments decrease.

“In 1999 the Ministry detected just over 13,000 cases of fraud compared to 10,000 last year, while the average amount of individual fraud overpayments fell by nearly $6000 per case to $4,500.”

Mr Barker said the size of current individual debt demonstrated the success and importance of the early intervention programmes.

However, for some beneficiaries it would be a long and difficult path to repay some debts.

“Some Work and Income clients have debts so large that it will be years before they pay back the money. The only solution is to stop people getting into these situations in the first place.”

In the past Mr Barker said the Ministry had often been criticised for being too tough on beneficiaries.

“The solution is to ensure that there is a good balance between detecting fraud and stopping clients racking up large debts by making sure they receive all the help they are entitled to.

“I certainly believe the Ministry’s prosecutions and debt recovery results show that they’ve got the balance about right,” Mr Barker said.

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