Pendle Council highlights worries over availability of Integrated Risk and Intelligence Service for DWP teams
Anxieties are rising that the new service formed to fight fraud does not have access to the IT system that could help catch housing benefit cheats.
Pendle Borough Council has recently registered its concern that the Single Fraud Investigation Service (SFIS), run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), is not yet able to use the Integrated Risk and Intelligence Service (IRIS) and that there is a backlog of suspected fraud cases.
This follows warnings from two House of Commons select committees that this could increase housing benefit fraud, and no a silence from DWP on whether the systems are being used.
The worries follow the transfer of hundreds of staff from councils to the SFIS over the past 18 months – a move that was completed on 2 April – ahead of the introduction of Universal Credit.
They were expected to use Iris, but last year Parliament's Work and Pensions Committee highlighted that IRIS was missing from the Universal Credit pathfinders, and said it was vital in making it possible to cross-check claims against councils' property data.
This followed a warning in 2013 by the Communities and Local Government Committee that Universal Credit would make it very difficult to distinguish between genuine and fraudulent housing benefit claims. It also warned a new real time information (RTI) system - to allow the collection of PAYE income tax, by calculating monthly benefit entitlements – could not cater for the self-employed.
A report published by Pendle's Accounts and Audit Committee in January of this year said: “The local DWP SFIS have affirmed that an increasing number of referrals from local authorities are stuck in a backlog.
“Local SFIS offices have been asked to supply extra staff to help work through this referral backlog, so it may be some time before we have more substantial results to report.
“This appears to be a national problem following migration of housing benefit fraud to DWP.”
A DWP spokesman declined to say either whether IRIS had now been introduced to detect fraud, or to comment on the reports of a backlog.
Picture by Colin, CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons