29/11/2012 13:24 GMT

Benefit Fraud Suspects Assessed By 'Lie Detecting Technology' In Southwark

Benefit claimants are being assessed by lie detecting technology in a clampdown on fraudulent claims by Southwark Council in South London.

The technology is called Voice Risk Analysis and monitors the level of stress in peoples' voices. The council claims it has helped uncover fraudulent council tax claims of nearly 4,000 people, reported the Southwark News.

Calls are put through to Capita (an outsourcing company similar to Atos) where claims are assessed and a trained operator alerted if changes in the caller's voice frequency indicated they may have been making a fraudulent claim.

The council defended the use of the technology saying they were the 13th worst-hit council in England for benefit fraud and the use of VRA resulted recouped £1.4m of council tax payable. It did not disclose how much Capitas services costs.

Councillor Richard Livingstone, cabinet member for finance and resources, said in a statement to the Huffington Post UK: "Southwark Council undertook a single occupancy discount review from July 2012 to November 2012. Because of the scale and one off nature of the work, a third-party supplier (Capita) was instructed to act on behalf of the council to verify customer entitlements to the discount.

"Initially customers were written to by the council and subsequently reminded to contact the council to verify their details and entitlement to discount. For those accounts where confirmation was not received, the individuals concerned may have been contacted directly by Capita on behalf of the council. Voice Risk Analysis technology was used to assist with the process.”

Customers aren't specifically told they are being assessed by the technology, but rather greeted by the message that the call is being recorded and monitored for the detection of fraud.

Voice Risk Analysis (VRA) technology was piloted by the Department of Work and Pensions in connection with Capita in 2008.

At the time James Plaskitt, anti-fraud Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), said the "technology is helping to combat benefit fraud and making it quicker and easier to review claims, especially for those people who are genuinely entitled to benefits.”

However there have been questions raised over the accuracy of the technology and one of the pilot areas in Harrow stopped using the technology three years ago, the Telegraph reported.

People who do not speak English as their first language, or those who have hearing or cognitive difficulties are exempted from the technology.

Southwark council said "The identification of vulnerable customers requiring further assistance would be identified during the course of the call by officers and escalated."