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Social Security Fraud Act 2001

Clause 1: Additional powers to obtain information

21.This clause amends and adds to the investigator's powers in sections 109A, 109B, 109C and 110A of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

22.Section 109A provides for the Secretary of State to authorise officers to use powers in sections 109B and 109C for the purposes set out at section 109A(2):

(a)

ascertaining whether a social security benefit is or was payable in an individual case;

(b)

investigating the circumstances of accidents, injuries or diseases giving rise to claims for Industrial Injuries Benefit and other benefits;

(c)

ascertaining whether the provisions of the relevant social security legislation have been, are being or are likely to be contravened (in cases involving particular individuals as well as more generally);

(d)

preventing, detecting and securing evidence of the commission of criminal offences in relation to the relevant social security legislation (either by particular individuals or more generally).

23.Section 110A allows the Chief Executives or Principal Finance Officers of authorities administering Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit to authorise officers to use the powers at sections 109B and 109C for purposes set out in section 110A(2):

(a)

ascertaining whether Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit is or was payable in an individual case;

(b)

ascertaining whether the provisions of the relevant social security legislation regarding Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit have been, are being or are likely to be contravened (in cases involving particular individuals as well as more generally);

(c)

preventing, detecting and securing evidence of the commission of criminal offences in relation to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (either by particular individuals or more generally).

24.Section 109B provides a power for authorised officers to require those listed at 109B(2) to provide information requested by written notice where this is reasonable in relation to one or more of the purposes set out at section 109A(2).

25.Section 109C provides a power for authorised officers to inspect premises where persons are employed, from which a trade, business or pension fund is being carried on or where information about these is stored, where this is reasonable in relation to one or more of the purposes set out at section 109A(2). This section is not amended by the Act.

26.Clause 1(1) provides for amendment of section 109B of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

27.Clause 1(2) inserts a new subsection (2A) after section 109B(2).  It lists organisations from which officers authorised under section 109A and 110A of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 can require information. Those organisations include: banks; credit reference agencies; utility providers and education bodies.

28.Clause 1(2) also inserts new subsections (2B) to (2F) into section 109B of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

29.The new section 109B(2B) provides that, subject to the following provisions of the section, the powers to require information at section 109B shall only be exercisable for making enquiries of persons listed at new section 109B(2A) for the purpose of obtaining information relating to particular persons identified by name or description.

30.New section 109B(2C) provides that an authorised officer shall not exercise those powers to obtain information from persons listed in new section 109B(2A) unless it appears to him that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the identified person who it relates to is:

(a)

a person who has committed, is committing or intends to commit a benefit offence; or

(b)

a person who is a member of the family of a person falling within paragraph (a) above. (A family member is defined in section 137 of the Social Security and Contributions Benefit Act 1992 and includes married and unmarried partners and children and dependants which claimants or their partners are responsible for).

31.New section 109B(2D) provides that, where an authorised officer is a member of a Government Department and where his authorisation explicitly states that it applies for the purposes of new section 109B(2D), nothing in 109B(2B) or 109B(2C) shall prevent him from obtaining information relating exclusively to whether, and in what quantities, water, gas and electricity are supplied to residential premises.

32.New section 109B(2E) provides that the powers at 109B may only be exercised to obtain information from a telecommunications provider if it is “communications data” but not  “traffic data” (as those terms are defined in section 21 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000). Restricting the information to communications data would enable the authorised officer to obtain information about the use made by a person of a telecommunications service or any other information held about subscribers to the service. However it would exclude information about the contents of any communication.  The exclusion of traffic data would prevent the authorised officer from obtaining information identifying the person, apparatus or location to or from which a communication is sent.

33.New section 109B(2F) provides a further exception to the requirements in section 109B(2B) and 109B(2C) (that is to exercise the powers only in relation to an identified person and where there is reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing or intends to commit a benefit offence).  Nothing in those subsections shall prevent an authorised officer from requiring information from a telecommunications provider, about a person’s identity and postal address where the authorised officer has identified the person solely by reference to a telephone number or electronic address.

34.Clause 1(3) amends the existing 109B(5).

Revised 109B(5) sets out two cases where a person is exempt from the requirement to provide information. They are:

a)

if the information is information which may incriminate themselves or their spouse; and

b)

if the information is information which, in any proceedings, would be subject to legal professional privilege or, in Scotland, confidentially between a client and a professional legal advisor.

For both a) and b) it does not matter whether the information is in documentary form or not. These exemptions would apply to information required from persons listed in sections 109B(2) and 109B(2A). Only the exemption subject to legal privilege is new.

35.Clause 1(4) inserts new section 109B(6) and 7.

36.New section 109B(6) provides that provision may be made by Order:

(a)

to add to the list of persons at 109B(2A);

(b)

to remove persons from that list;

(c)

to modify 109B(2A) to take account of any changes to the names of persons listed there.

37.New section 109B(7) gives definitions of the terms “bank” “credit” “residential premises” and “telecommunications service”.

38.Clause 1(5) inserts a new paragraph (c) into section 110A(8). Section 110A(8) provides that the powers in sections 109B and 109C may be exercised by officers authorised by authorities administering Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. New paragraph (c) excludes section 109B(2D) from this provision.

39.Clause 1(6) amends section 111(1)(a) of the Act (offence of obstruction) by substituting "authorised officer" for "inspector" for the purposes of consistent terminology.

40.Clause 1(7) amends section 121 DA (5) to re-define benefit offences. The new definition now incorporates attempt, conspiracy and collusion to commit benefit offences.

41.Clause 1(8) amends section 121 DA (7) to define “relevant social security benefit” which is a term used in the re-definition of benefit offences above.

42.Clause 1(9) adds the order making power provided for by new section 109B(6)(a) to the list of the order making powers subject to affirmative Parliamentary procedure set out at section 190(1)(a) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

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