Telling lies, the DWP and Councils use Voice risk analysis to detect if your claim for benefit is fraudulent

By Simon Preston

Local councils and the DWP have been using it for sometime the VRA Pilots began in each area at the end of 2008 and were scheduled to run for 12 months (although some areas had decided to continue using VRA after the pilot had ended). Research was conducted in Aberdeen and Barking and Dagenham at the end of the pilot phase. At that stage it was not possible to conduct research in any other areas as confirmation of which areas would be able to provide claimant samples had not been obtained. Therefore, a two stage fieldwork process was necessary with an additional stage of fieldwork being carried out throughout the first half of 2010 as samples became available.

Voice risk analysis (VRA) is a real time system that combines the measurement of physiological levels of voice stress with behavioural analysis and conversation management techniques to enable the detection of truthful statements. It is a proven technique used in the private sector and is widely used in the insurance business.

In order to claim Housing and / or Council Tax Benefit, the customer is required to provide numerous documents in support of the income, capital and circumstances of them and their household.  Such documents include bank statements, pay slips, benefit letters and tenancy agreements and request for these can lead to a delay in processing Benefit claims.

The Department for Works and Pensions decided to investigate the VRA software and see whether the same techniques can be used successfully in Housing Benefit administration and in welfare benefits in general and therefore reduce the documentation needed in support of a claim.  A number of Local Authorities across the country were invited to take part in the project with the specific objectives being:

  • To improve customer service by providing processes that are quicker and less intrusive to the vast majority of claimants
  • To provide a service that is more efficient and therefore less costly
  • To improve fraud and error prevention and detection

The DWP are due to publish their findings and the results of the project in due course.  Please check here at a later date or visit their website at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/ for more information.

In the late summer of 2008, Bromsgrove and Redditch councils were accepted as part of the 2nd phase of a national project with the Department for Work and Pensions to test the use of Voice Risk Analysis software in Housing and Council Tax Benefit administration.  We went “live” with the use of VRA on the 27th January 2009.

Initially the VRA process only applied to new Benefit claims but has now been extended to include claims due for review, also known as interventions.  In the past, when making a new claim for Benefit or when their claim is due for renew, customers had to provide a number of documents in support of their claim.

The new process includes the making of an appointment at a time that is convenient to the call handler and the customer.  During the call, the customer is asked a number of questions regarding their income, capital, circumstances and rental liability, all of which are risk assessed using the software and behavioural techniques.

At the end of the call the risk assessment is completed and the case is marked as low risk or high risk.

Low Risk Cases

If a new claim is classed as low risk the claim for Housing / Council Tax Benefit can be processed immediately following the call.  This means that any Council Tax Benefit could be credited to the Council Tax account and a revised bill issued the same day and any Housing Benefit could be paid into your nominated bank account within 7 days*.

If an Intervention (review) has been classed as low risk, the claim will be reviewed and re-assessed to take into account any changes that may have been reported.  Letters may then be issued the following day to advise you of the change to your entitlement, if applicable.

We are required to do a sample selection of low risk cases so some customers may be subject to a follow up visit.  During this visit the visiting officer will ask to see certain documentation to allow us to check against the information provided during the telephone call.  In the event of anything changing or any differences being identified, your claim for Benefit will be re-assessed.  If a visit is needed, you will be notified in writing of the date and time of the visit.

Please be aware that in some circumstances, although the claim may be classed as low risk, additional information may still be needed.  You will normally be advised of this at the end of your call.

* The time taken to pay Housing Benefit may vary depending on your preferred method of payment, who the benefit is to be paid to, the date the claim is processed and the date any payments are authorised.

High Risk Cases

If risks are identified during a call for a new claim, Benefit entitlement shall not be processed and the customer shall be asked to provide further documentation in support of their claim.

If a high risk is identified during an intervention (review) call, future benefit payments are suspended pending receipt of additional information and documents.

In most instances, a visit will be arranged so a visiting officer can come and view the documents to prevent any further delay in the claim.  You will normally be advised in writing within one week of the date of call about when the visit will be.

Links

http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2009-2010/rrep716.pdf  Voice Risk Analysis Pilots: Perspectives from staff, claimants and potential claimants.

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/vra-evaluation.pdf

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/local-authority-staff/housing-benefit/security/voice-risk-analysis-vra/

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/newsroom/press-releases/2010/dec-2010/dwp180-10-141210.shtml

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