Select Committee on Social Security Second Report


The process undertaken by the interviewers

12.1  The fieldwork undertaken comprised three distinct phases; pre-visit, visit and post-visit action.


12.2  Previewing was an essential part of the process and was undertaken in order to:

  • establish the background to the customer's claim, details of their condition and reasons for the award,
  • identify any particular difficulties (eg need for interpreter, customer potentially violent), and
  • establish any inconsistencies in departmental records or other data pointing to possible fraud.

Each interviewer was given specific guidelines on previewing action in order to ensure a common approach.

12.3  Information extracted from the penpicture and supporting documentation was transferred to the "Claim Data" and "Issues to Probe from Preview" columns of the questionnaire so that they could be probed later if appropriate.

The Visit

Visiting Strategy

12.4  Interviewing customers in their homes rather than official premises leads to a more relaxed atmosphere and is therefore more conducive to candour. In addition it provides interviewers with a first hand and more comprehensive picture of the customer's circumstances. The visits were unnotified.

12.4.1  Interviewers were instructed to make at least three attempts to see the customer unnotified, calling at different times of the day. If the unnotified visits were ineffective the interviewer eventually left a card making an appointment for a further visit, which would of course then be notified. If this still failed to secure an interview then another card was left asking the customer to attend the office for an interview.

12.4.2  On the doorstep the interviewers established the customer's identity, showed their Benefits Agency identity card and explained that they wished to talk to them about their FAMC claim to check that the information held about them was correct. If the customer objected to the visit the interviewers first tried to establish the basis for the objection. Where, for instance, the time was inconvenient or the customer needed to have their partner present the interviewer arranged to call back.

The Interview

12.5  At the start of the interview the customer was asked to produce evidence of identity (see para 8.6). The interviewer then followed the sequence of structured and unstructured questioning set out in the questionnaire, probing any areas of doubt or suspicion. In general the unnotified visits did not cause a problem; a few customers asked the interviewers to call back at a more convenient time.


12.6  After the visit was complete the interviewer carried out follow-up checks and made further enquiries where appropriate. Where full verification of facts was not achieved (for instance because the customer did not have verification of self-employed earnings) efforts were made to obtain this at a later date.

12.7  In a number of cases the interviewer made a second visit to interview the customer and partner together in order to discuss details of the partner's employment that the customer may not have been aware of.

12.8  On all cases where an error was found, or the interviewer was suspicious that a customer had not represented their true circumstances, the interviewer recorded full details so that further action could be considered when the case was returned to the helpdesk.

12.9  Where during the interview any fraud or incorrectness was found on any other benefits in payment the interviewer took appropriate action to ensure that these were dealt with in accordance with normal rules and instructions.

Visit to Employer

12.10  In all cases where the customer and/or partner worked for an employer a visit was made to that employer to obtain verification of wages. Employers were asked to provide details of wages for the FAMC assessment period — to ensure that correct details had been provided to the FAMC Unit at the time of the claim.

12.11  Details from the wages records were recorded on a special proforma.

12.12  All completed documentation was returned to the central helpdesk for checking and further action as appropriate.

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Prepared 4 February 1999