Campaigning to cut welfare overpayments

I keep a watching brief on the challenges facing today’s tax and welfare agencies as they continue or embark on their digital transformations. High on the agenda is the detection and prevention of fraud.

It’s a subject I’ve blogged about before, specifically in relation to the solutions and services we offer to help our clients combat tax and welfare fraud. But there’s another story here that begins with the fraudsters themselves and what governments are doing to raise awareness of unintentional fraud.

With public sector budgets stretched to the limit, there is a pressing need to cut the amount wasted on fraudulently-claimed benefits payments. Just imagine for example what the UK Government could have done with the £1.23 billion of total benefit expenditure overpaid due to fraud in the year 2010-2011.

I was interested to see the UK Government piloting a poster campaign tackling the problem earlier this year. Run in six areas across the UK, the campaign also featured newspaper and Facebook adverts, as well as letters to claimants urging people to report suspected benefit fraud or changes to their circumstances (http://campaigns.dwp.gov.uk/campaigns/benefit-thieves/).

The campaign was clever in its simplicity. One poster’s headline simply said: ‘Claiming benefits? Got a new job? Make sure you tell us’. Another stated: ‘It’s not if we catch you, it’s when’.

A second tier of messaging made the point that benefit claims were being checked. It provided a phone number for people to ring to update their claims and asked if they were ‘doing the right thing’. The campaign messaging pre-supposed that many overpayments were the result of people simply not remembering or knowing how to update their benefit status.

I’m keen to find out what happens next. How did the pilots go and which of the different media got the best results? And will other governments take a similar approach on this topic?

Please get in touch with me if you know the answer or if you’ve got a story to share on this or other tax and welfare topics.