Lie detector equipment could reduce bogus calls

Benefit fraud continues to be a major problem across the UK. In a bid to reduce bogus claims, Birmingham County Council is installing lie detector equipment to monitor telephone calls to its benefit claim lines.

Oct 4, 2007
By David Howell
Marc Jones

Benefit fraud continues to be a major problem across the UK. In a bid to reduce bogus claims, Birmingham County Council is installing lie detector equipment to monitor telephone calls to its benefit claim lines.

It is hoped that the new technology will reduce the £1 million that is paid out in overpayments each year. The system can scan the speech patterns of claimants and identify changes in speed and tone that could indicate a lie.

The pilot scheme is being part funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It has, however, been criticised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). A spokesman said: “The problem with this kind of technology is that a lot of the time it doesn’t work.”

The TUC pointed out that installing the system could discourage completely legitimate claimants from applying for the money they are entitled to and that the system could register a false positive.

This step has also been heavily criticised by civil liberties groups who point to the fact that the UK already has over 20 million CCTV cameras. Any additional intrusion into people’s privacy with systems like the lie detector would be unsustainable.

The campaign to curb benefit fraud is driving the development of lie detector technology as an estimated £650 million was paid out in housing benefit alone last year across the UK through fraud and error. Birmingham Council has become the second borough to test the system after the DWP began its year-long trial with Harrow in May.

The DWP points out that voice risk assessment is widely used in the insurance sector. It isn’t clear whether citizens in Harrow or Birmingham will be told that they may be taking a lie detector test when they call the council’s benefits phone lines.

From a policing and emergency services standpoint being able to identify if a caller is telling the truth could help to reduce the number of bogus calls that are received each year. Latest figures would suggest that 999 calls are up a fifth on last year, which is putting an increasing strain on the service. Reducing the number of bogus calls is a priority.

Using technology that is similar to the lie detector system being tested in Birmingham and Harrow could potentially provide a system to identify bogus emergency calls.

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