December 6, 2011 • 1:04 pm

Today’s Daily Telegraph ran a piece about so called ‘bounty hunters’ who will be tracking down benefit fraudsters after the Government signed a contract with the credit rating agency Experian. The company are due to provide support to help identify benefit ‘cheats’ in an attempt to reduce the sum lost each year to benefit fraud.

As context, the article claimed: “Last year, David Cameron warned that £5.2 billion a year was lost to fraudulent benefit claims and promised to recruit private sector firms to enforce the crackdown.”

However, as Full Fact has repeatedly shown, this figure (from last year) actually encompasses the total lost to fraud and error, with the latter accounting for a much larger proportion of the loss at £3.7 billion.

This is by no means the first time the £5.2 billion figure has been reported as simply the loss due to benefit fraud.

The statistic was given a public airing in August last year when the Prime Minister David Cameron launched reforms to the benefit system. Writing both in the Sunday Times and in the Manchester Evening News, Mr Cameron stated that welfare and tax credit fraud and error was costing the taxpayer £5.2 billion a year.

However back in October last year, Full Fact reported that Chancellor George Osborne had mistakenly referred to the £5.2 billion as the total lost to benefit fraud.

This same mistake was also repeated by Welfare Minister Lord Freud in a foreward to a Departmental document, which he later apologised for and pledged to take “corrective action”.

Since then, the Department for Work and Pensions has updated these figures, meaning that the Telegraph’s claim is not only incorrect, but also out-of-date. We will be contacting the paper to request a correction.

Update 06/12: One of our readers has told us the BBC also mistakenly reported the figure as benefit fraud. We have so far been unable to find a clip of this but if anyone could point us in the direction of one please let us know. 

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