Tax Credits Bill

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Ms Buck: I have listened closely to the hon. Gentleman. I think that we all agree that fraud is a serious problem, because it takes money away from those who need it. Nevertheless, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is also important to consider take-up? We talk about fraud far more than we talk about take-up, which varies extraordinarily. In constituencies like mine—complex inner-city areas with high population turnover—take-up of the children's tax credit and working families tax credit is way below what it should be. That is partly because it is so often associated with campaigning about fraud, not about take-up.

Mr. Clappison: I do not doubt the hon. Lady's knowledge of her own constituency. However, her comments conflict with what the Paymaster General has told us in previous debates about take-up of working families tax credit. If I addressed the question of what to do about take-up, Mr. Beard, I would be straying out of order. The hon. Lady asks, as Labour Members often do, what the Opposition would do. I am explaining how we would go about tackling fraud, given the need for a much more thoroughgoing approach than that of the Government.

I warn the hon. Lady and other Labour Members that it is no good simply to assume that fraud does not occur, so that it can go uninvestigated and not be taken into account in designing legislation. The example of individual learning accounts is a salutary

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reminder of the dangers of complacency about fraud. That initiative was much trumpeted by the Government, including, on one memorable occasion, by the Deputy Prime Minister at Prime Minister's questions. We were told what a great thing they were, but what subsequently happened shows that we must guard against complacency about fraud, especially when payments are being made out of public funds for services provided by third parties. Among those who suffer most in such cases are the honest providers and purchasers of services, who were left in a parlous state after the dramatic and chaotic closure of individual learning accounts.

The effective investigation and uncovering of tax credit fraud calls for co-operation from the public, and the Government must facilitate that. Will the Minister tell us what steps they have taken in that regard? The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) might welcome that, because it would draw attention to the existence of tax credits. I was not entirely reassured by the reply that I received from the Paymaster General when I asked her what was being done to enable and encourage members of the public to provide information about fraud in the tax credits system. I was told that members of the public could

    ''write or telephone the Tax Credit Office or a local office or telephone a helpline, including the Benefits Anti-Fraud Hotline''.

I was also told that the tax credit office has a child care tax credit hotline for child care providers to give information about suspected improper claims for child care costs. However, given the low number of penalties

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and prosecutions that have arisen in that respect, I assume that the hotline has not exactly been overwhelmed with calls.

Mr. Webb: It is not very hot.

Mr. Clappison: Indeed. Can the Minister tell us how many times information has been received on the benefits anti-fraud hotline about tax credit fraud, how many cases of suspected improper claims for child care costs have been reported to the child care tax credit hotline, and what is being done to inform the public of the hotline's existence? I was unaware of it until I received the written answer from the Paymaster General, and not every member of the public pays the great attention to parliamentary written answers that we do.

Public co-operation is important, but so too is co-operation between central Government and other bodies involved with the problem of fraud. Will the Minister tell us about the Government's plans for sharing information with local government and with the private sector? That reflects recommendations in the Scampion report.

I appreciate that I have asked the Minister a series of detailed questions. If he does not have the answers at his fingertips, I should be grateful if he would write to me.

It being half-past Ten o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put pursuant to the resolution of the Committee [22 January].

Adjourned till this day at Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Beard, Mr. Nigel (Chairman)
Boateng, Mr.
Buck, Ms
Casale, Roger
Clappison, Mr.
Cruddas, Jon
Flight, Mr.
Luff, Mr.
Mole, Mr.
Pond, Mr.
Sheridan, Jim
Sutcliffe, Mr.
Swire, Mr.
Webb, Mr.
Wright, Mr. Anthony D.
Younger-Ross, Richard

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