Benefits crackdown triggers data protection suspicions

Credit rating firms could be used to root out benefits cheats
Credit rating firms could be used to root out benefits cheats

By staff

Government plans to use private sector firms to root out benefit cheats have attracted the attention of the information commissioner.

Christopher Graham said he was seeking urgent talks with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after details of the coalition's welfare crackdown emerged yesterday.

The government wants to use credit rating firms like Experian to monitor the spending habits of benefit claimants, in a bid to identify those who are cheating the system.

Prime minister David Cameron said yesterday: "If you are entitled to welfare and can claim it then you should claim it but if you are not entitled to it you should not get and should not claim it.

"Private companies use all sorts of different means to make sure they are not defrauded, why should the state be any different?"

Mr Graham told BBC2's Newsnight programme the proposals could breach data protection rules, however.

He said: "If... it starts being really intrusive and asking questions about people's spending habits rather than just whether they are who they say they are then that's something that's got to be explored with the information commissioner, because I've got responsibilities under the Data Protection Act and I'm not convinced from what I've heard - if this is an extension of what's already happening - that there aren't issues here that we need to explore."

Mr Graham said he wanted an "urgent meeting" with the DWP to discuss the proposals.

They were announced as part of a review of the government's efforts to reduce the annual £5.2 billion for benefit fraud and error, to be completed this autumn.


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