In the six years preceding the previously mentioned figures, the average number of calls each year to the Benefit Fraud Hotline was 199,191 (rounded up by 0.25). At the same time the average number of prosecutions achieved as a result of these calls for each year was 628. This actually represents an average hit rate of 0.31% so things are looking up from earlier (as an average at least)!
However, in addition to these figures there is also the question of the operating cost of the hotline. On Friday, in response to a question from the Tory MP, David Ruffley on this matter, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, James Plaskitt said
"[t]he operational costs of administering the national benefit fraud hotline include the costs of administering the report-a-benefit thief online service. These costs cannot be separated. The available information is in the following table."The table then presented to Parliament (at the top of this page) simply detailed the budget allocation, rather than the operating cost for the hotline on the basis of the reasons given in the quote. Now, this may of course seem perfectly reasonable, after all, the hotline costs and another "grass on your neighbour" project have a joint budget that cannot be separated, it makes sense to simply display the budget allocation instead right?.... wrong!
In figures I've received under FoI, the operating costs for NBFH during 2005/06 is not the £986,000 joint budget that Parliament was told and is in fact significantly higher for just the NBFH. The FoI response states clearly that the "actual operating costs for NBFH during 2005/06 was £1,212,901". This represents an overspend of £226,901 on NBFH alone.
The FoI response (drawn up in January) goes on to state that the "forecasted operating costs for 2006/2007 are £1,497,425" which is in marked comparison to the supposed budget allocation of just £597,010 in the Parliamentary response. This forecast represents an overspend of £900,415 on just one project in a budget that, according to the Government, exists for two distinct projects.
This leads to a few important questions. Firstly, who and how is the overspend being paid for? Secondly (and perhaps most importantly), isn't someone somewhere being fraudulent (how ironic) with the benefit fraud hotline figures?