As part of my work on the new social security book, which will be out in February, I’ve been updating some of the figures I refer to. I’ve just been revising figures related to fraud and error in the benefit system, and I’ve been struck by the extent of variation in the DWP estimates by comparison with previous figures. Overpayments of JSA are said to have increased from 3.9% to 5.0%, both because of higher fraud and higher official error. Overpayments of Pensions Credit came down from 5.9% overpaid to 4.6%, but have now apparently gone back up to 5.6%, even though claimant error seems to have fallen. Over the last couple of years the figures for Housing Benefit have reapportioned blame from claimant error to fraud. This is an uncertain area, and most of this can probably be put down to methodology rather than any underlying trends.
The HMRC figures, which refer to a previous period, avoid problems by a simple strategem: they don’t admit to making any mistakes themselves. (Table 5 in their figures puts the damage at no more than £10m out of nearly £30bn).