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Benefits claimants in Cornwall to face lie detectors

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 23, 2013

  • Fiona Ferguson has resigned over what she calls 'Big Brother' subterfuge

Comments (15)

"Big Brother-style" lie-detectors will be used by Cornwall Council leaders to trap benefit cheats, according to a cabinet member who last night resigned.

Fiona Ferguson, portfolio holder for corporate resources, said she would not be part of the "subterfuge" to try to catch those who try to fiddle the system because the software was "not proven".

Capita were the contractors drafted-in by the council to install so-called "voice risk analysis techniques" on the telephone system to discover if those claiming the single person's council tax discount are genuine.

Mrs Ferguson said fellow Tory and council leader, Jim Currie had accepted her resignation after the pair had "agreed to differ" over the issue.

Mrs Ferguson said: "I think this smacks of Big Brother and I don't believe it's right.

"I won't be a part of the subterfuge which is why I've resigned now.

"I don't think the council were going to make a big splash of telling people.

"I'm worried this will put genuine people off from speaking to the council."

Mrs Ferguson, who entered the cabinet just three months ago, remains leader of the Conservative group on the council and will carry on as a councillor.

Mr Currie said: "There is tremendous pressure on the council's budget and we need to do everything we can to prevent fraud. This will not affect people making genuine claims."

In recent months, Mrs Ferguson has been at loggerheads with fellow Conservatives and other council members over the budget she helped draw-up.

Mrs Ferguson argued for a 0% increase in council tax while others called for a rise of 1.97% to combat government funding cuts – she rejected claims quitting cabinet was to dodge the wrangle.

Alex Folkes, Lib-Dem leader on the council, said: "With recent events I think she was looking for an excuse to leave the cabinet."

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15 comments

  • Truro_England  |  January 24 2013, 1:03PM

    The 'Nanny State' or 'big brother state' is slowly being driven into the UK way of life! People laugh at me when I tell them the UK is getting more like North Korea every day, more taxes, more people telling us what to eat and watch on TV. If one local Council are aloud to act like Nazis then soon more will and also will Cornwall County Nazi Council use this lie detector for anything else/ Local Councils are full of little hitler ego warriors who get power trips and love the feel of power over us who pay their wages. Its all about control in western countries, the big concrete blocks around Parliment are not to stop some chap on horse back half way aound the world but to stop us from gaining control and living how we would like...

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  • cornishskptic  |  January 24 2013, 9:21AM

    Apart from the moral questions on the use of this method, the main concern to me, and something that the members of Cornwall council don't seem to be able to get their heads round is that Voice Risc Analysis simply DOES NOT WORK! So Capita have enjoyed getting £50000 of tax payers money for running a product that has been proven in tests to perform no better than chance to quote from Wikipedia "Research by Anders Eriksson and Francesco Lacerda has claimed that this technology is "at the astrology end of the spectrum" of reliability. The UK newspaper The Guardian claimed about the UK Department for Work and Pensions that data from trials between May 2007 and July 2008 show that at more than half the locations studied results were no better than random" Jim Currie needs to learn some critical thinking skills and do some research before wasting £50000 of tax money outsourcing to a private firm offering pseudoscientific products that cannot be proven to do what they claim. A case of fraud from Capita perhaps. David West of Capita is the man that sells the system you can ask him to provide evidence by calling him on 07766 397520

    Rate   7
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  • Cornishwonder  |  January 23 2013, 11:19PM

    Fiona Ferguson's resignation has more than a whiff of political expediency about it. Isn't this the same councillor I heard moaning on Radio Cornwall last week that she needed more time to get on top of her Cabinet brief because she had been on holiday? One could be forgiven for thinking that it dawned on her just how unpopular the Cabinet member for corporate services was about to become given that she would be the flag waver for further unpopular cuts to council budgets. And just weeks before the local elections. Fancy that! Can't help thinking that the high ground on which councillor Ferguson has so firmly planted her flag of moral indignation may soon be overcome by a rising tide of hypocrisy.

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  • Cknocker  |  January 23 2013, 10:14PM

    Steve, nobody has an issue with catching people fraudulently claiming, but this is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, however this isn't the big isssue, the big issue is the council NOT wanting the public to know they are doing it! Firstly I can't believe the scale of the problem being anything like the council are purporting, this will apparently save £1 Million a year (How do the council have a clue how many are dishonestly claiming?), think about it - the average discount is £250 a year - thats 4000 households dishonestly claiming. There are approximately 200,000 households in the county, you can remove the social housing (Approximately 50,000) straight away, as it is (Or can be easily) known how many live in each of those properties. Then remove the second homes followed by those receiving council tax benefit - it doesn't leave a huge number. With what's left a simple credit check will show the majority of people lying - although (as with the phone stress test) that would not be conclusive and further questioning would be required. What I find offensive is the assumption that all single people are lying about being single.

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  • Steve_Truro1  |  January 23 2013, 9:32PM

    Errr everyones missing the point here - they are simply using a system to help try and catch people who are fraudulently claiming the single persons discount - let me say that again - FRAUDULENTLY claiming the discount. I am sure that the agents placing the calls will tell them that the call is being monitored - your bank and every other company under the sun do this routinely so why so much fuss when the Council contracts a company to do it? Even so all the system will do is identify potential further lines of enquiry - it's not going to convict and send to jail each person its thinks may be being economic with the truth and hey if you're not doing anything wrong then what have you got to hide? Surely we ALL should be supporting the Council's efforts to ensure that the system isn't being abused and everyone paying what they should. I suppose they could just put their heads in the sand and ignore the problem but then you will all have a go at that too! Get with the plot people.

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  • kernewekonan  |  January 23 2013, 8:52PM

    what a down right cheek from these greedy councillors. It is not long ago most of them voted for a massive increases in their saleries and expenses. Big Brother wants to be scrutinising them. IT certainly time to be rid of them and quickly.

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  • Jonny2010  |  January 23 2013, 8:05PM

    How about applying lie detector tests to some of the staff at Cornwall Council??? How about rooting out the corruption and lies behind the scene? How many managers at Cornwall Council actually obtain their job through an open and transparent recruitment process? NOT MANY, let me assure you of that!!!

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  • AnGof2012  |  January 23 2013, 7:00PM

    If you want to know the truth about the Tory contracted in company Capita, Google the name. They are currently communicating with all those receiving sole occupant's discount in Cornwall at the request of Cornwall Council. They will require you to sign a form which also includes your consent for them to search your credit records to see if anyone else has claimed credit at your current address. If you fail to sign and return the form - a SAE is NOT included - your single council tac reduction will be stopped. Capita is a private firm and Cornwall Council run by the 'Nasty' Party have supplied them with your details. So much for Data Protection! For this service Capita are paid a percentage of every false claim they detect. Their boss is paid tens of thousands every week. Their London based workforce is on minimum wage. This work if necessary could have been done in Cornwall making work here. But no, the Tories have contracted this out to one of their 'buddies'. Remember this when you go to vote. Perhaps you might also like to remember the soldiers that these people sent to war who are returning home to their P45's. There is no level the 'Nasty' Party or their allies (and I include the Fib Dems and UKIP) will not stoop to to criminalise the poorest whilst they line their pockets. All this information is freely available. I enquired with Cornwall Council Revenue Department about Capita and the above information was contained in their reply. Remember, Council elections come in MAY, THIS YEAR. Red arrow me all you like but I for one will be bothering to vote and it won't be for any of the 'Nasty' Party or their friends up in London.

    Rate   5
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  • Macloud  |  January 23 2013, 6:50PM

    Fiona Ferguson is right to be concerned about the use of voice risk analysis (VRA) or voice stress analysis (VSA) software by the Council checking claims for single person council tax discount for a number of reasons: 1. The Department for Work and Pensions in 2010 after extensive trials by 23 councils stated it could not concluded that VRA works effectively and consistently in the benefits environment and decided not to use it. Was the Council aware of this when it decided to award the contract to Capita? If so, on what basis did it decide to ignore the results of these trials? 2. If the Council is using this technology, described as a form of "lie detector test", without the knowledge and specific consent of the person being interviewed on the phone this may be a form of covert surveillance requiring approval under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. If so, has this approval been given, by whom and on what basis? 3. Similarly if the person interviewed does not have knowledge of or has not given consent to the use of a "lie detector test" does this breach Article 8 Human Rights Act 1998 (the right to privacy)? 4. The Disability Alliance and others have expressed concerns that VRA has not been tested on those who have speech/language impairments, and may wrongly identify people with mental health issues as high risk (i.e. likely to be committing fraud). Has the Council undertaken a full Equality Impact Assessment and undertaken appropriate consultation on the impact of the use of this technology? 5. Did councilors understand that this contract involved the use of VRA when it was awarded? Or was this agreed by officers without informing councillors?

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  • Cknocker  |  January 23 2013, 6:49PM

    So when did people claiming a single occupancy DISCOUNT (Based on the FACT they consume less services) become benefit claimants? Is this all part of the labelling so in a months time they will become benefits SCROUNGERS!

    Rate   10
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