Fraud, error & debt | 26 June 2014 | Meeting note

26 June 2014


Oliver Butler, Law Commission
John McIlwraith, DWP
Jonathan Dennis, DWP (Legal)
Mitch Riviere, HMRC
Sarah Wells, HMRC
Alison Morris, CLG
Bevis Ingram, Local Government Association
Geoff Eales, Charities Commission
Graeme Thomson, Cabinet Office
Rupert Cryer, Cabinet Office
Simon Burton, Cabinet Office
Jonathan Wallis, Cabinet Office
Dan Nesbitt, Big Brother Watch
John Elliot, Open Rights Group
Judith Jones, ICO
Ben Hayes, Statewatch
Javier Ruiz, Open Rights Group
Paul Arnold, Cabinet Office 

Morning Session

Item 1 – Arrival and Welcome

  1. The session opened with a welcome and an overview of the context of the current Open Policy Making (OPM) process for this workstrand.
  1. Introductions around the table were made. 

Item 2 – Review Previous Minute and Actions

  1. A minor edit to the minutes was agreed.
  1. The action points from the last meeting were reviewed:
1 Paper B to be edited as per group discussion and re-circulated for agreement.
2 John Wallis (economics, CO) and PA to meet with CO Behavioural Insights team to examine options for stakeholder studies on fraud and information sharing. CO have reached out to the BI team but due to workloads no progress has been made as yet. CO expect to have met by the time of the next FED session.
3 Any further queries on Paper C should be directed to PA in the first instance. No further comments were received.
4 Any further queries on Paper D should be directed to PA in the first instance. No further comments were received.

Item 3 – Paper B: ‘Fraud Error and Debt – Heads of Agreement’

  1. The latest version of the paper was put to the group. It was agreed that the paper accurately reflected the position the group had reached to date.
  1. PA summarised the major areas where the group felt more clarity was needed.
  1. It was noted that the Law Commission were continuing work around data sharing between public bodies.
  1. A discussion around the differences and overlaps between data-sharing and data-matching took place.

Item 4 – Paper D: ‘Current thinking on Debt’

  1. Rupert Cryer gave a talk on the scale of government debt, the base case for tackling it and the contribution that a general information sharing power could bring to that.
  1. A full discussion followed that. The following points and queries came up:
  • Do we need to make existing gateways more effective (there are currently at least 15) – or do we need new legislation? It seems that at least some of the solution involves using what we have already but better.
  • Private sector examples: HSBC, Barclays, Thames Water. Seem to show results from pooling data from numerous areas of a business into one collection team and process. Queries around if this is truly analogous to public sector debt, especially when 90% is in DWP and HMRC.
  • Collectibility of debt. What do we know about the composition behind the headline debt figures? How aged is the debt? How collectible is it realistically?
  • What is the realistic size of the prize?
  • Is the expectation towards a) sharing data on the citizen – or b) sharing data on the debts?
  • The Ministerial lead is that we should be aiming to manage debt across Government Departments and agencies better. Multiple debts should be administered as one.
  • Infrastructure – what would follow from the additional data sharing? How would it be used, collated, monitored? What is the expectation of who would do this?
  • Are we envisaging a one-stop debt collection agency?
  • What role if any for the private sector? Concerns around that. The civil society groups probably have more faith in Government than the private sector to run such undertakings.
  • Point made that the private sector is already involved in public sector debt collection.
  • Is the problem more at the front end of data collection – i.e. data not being properly collected and cleansed in the first instance, leading to poor and inaccurate records.
  • Where is the evidence to show that greater or better data sharing would help with debt collection?
  • Advantages of a single point of debt collection – to Government and the citizen – were broadly acknowledged by the group.
  • DWP & HMRC own 90% of debt. Need more on the composition of this debt.
  • DWP & HMRC have a gateway. Indications are that it operates effectively. What would a new power bring to these departments data sharing activities?
  • What is the privacy impact – and how will it be measured?
  • How many multiple debtors are there out there – we cannot currently see. The unknown unknowns. Is a pilot the first step to size up the issue?
  • What are the current frustrations to debt collection? We need evidence on this.
  • Is it a process issue? Cultural?
  • Is access to RTI data being considered? We know how collection agencies already use this data to time their collections.
  • There was a feeling from some that there was a gap between the problem statement and the evidence so far presented.
  • Definitions: are they tight enough? What is “overdue debt”? Goes towards what is collectible and what is written off and how it is accounted for. What is the composition of the headline debt figure?
  • Child Maintenance was mentioned – is this a government debt? It is not owed to government presumably.
  1. In summary, whilst the group felt clear on the questions for further research there was a feeling that further work needed to be done on the scope of the problem and what the expectation around collectibility would be. A 22% rule of thumb percentage was discussed.

Afternoon Session

Item 5 – Paper D: ‘Fraud, Error and Debt Gap Analysis’

  1. The group broke into three smaller groups for further discussions on paper D. The content of Paper D was agreed. The groups were then asked to try and identify any additional evidential gaps. The following was fed back to the entire group:
  • National Audit Office 1% public sector fraud tolerance level – is it too ambitious?
  • What are the cultural reasons for poor data sharing?
  • What are the likely data sharing flows that could increase as a result of a general power?
  • What are the disincentives for sharing? Risk of making mistakes? Sanctions against individuals?
  • Is the issue a result of lack of clarity around current data sharing powers?
  • To what extent does a solution involve engineering of what we currently have?
  • How do we account for non-monetary fraud (e.g. Blue Badge)?
  • Is government ambitious enough in chasing fraud?
  • Who will Government need to engage with to implement a solution?

Item 6 – ‘Evidence Gathering – Options and Success Criteria’

  1. The small groups then reconvened to discuss the framework and success criteria for further evidence gathering. The evidence gathering process needed to:
  • Be robust
  • Be clear on what its methods and measures are from outset.
  • Be framed in accordance with relevant best practice.
  • Be transparent.
  • Draw on statistically significant source material.
  • Take account of previous research.
  • Take account of the current landscape.
  • Contribute to our recommendations.
  • Understand the comparative value of various data sets.
  • Take appropriate account of foreign jurisdictions.
  • Take appropriate account of the private sector’s experience.

Recap of Progress and Actions

  1. The discussions would continue at the all day session on 18th July 2014 at the BIS conference suite, 1 Victoria Street.
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Tim Hughes

About Tim Hughes

Tim is Involve's incoming director, taking over from 21st January 2017. Tim has led campaigns and advocacy on open government; advised national, devolved and local governments, civil society organisations and multilateral institutions; and researched and written on topics including public participation, open government, democratic reform, civil society advocacy and public administration.

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