Phone lie detector to help catch Flintshire benefit fraudsters

Reporter:

Lois Hough

A LIE detector-type device is being used by Flintshire Council to fight benefit frauds.

People who telephone County Hall to make claims for housing and council tax benefits are being monitored by a Voice Risk Analyst (VRA) that detects changes in their voice if they are lying.

Councillors learned about the device, which records an average of 42,000 calls a year, during a presentation by housing chiefs.

Connah’s Quay councillor Bernie Attridge.

He told the Leader: “I was alarmed to discover this and had no idea it was going on.

“Members of the public have the right to know that they are being recorded and I am concerned about how this information could possibly be kept confidential.

“It’s basically a posh way of saying it’s a lie detector machine and I am very suspicious of it.”

VRA technology, which was introduced in Flintshire in 2008, works by measuring slight, inaudible changes in the human voice that indicate when a speaker delivers words under stress as an attempt to deceive.

Voice patterns are analysed and displayed on a computer.

Bosses at Flintshire Council say that all members were informed of the device at the time it was introduced.

Kerry Feather, head of finance at Flintshire Council, made assurances that all information will be kept confidential.

She said: “Flintshire Council joined a national pilot scheme with the Department for Work and Pensions to introduce VRA in November 2008.

“The aim of this was to promote and develop quicker and more efficient ways of handling claims for housing and council tax benefit.

“The purpose of VRA is to assist the assessment officer to identify any potential risks associated with a claim for housing and/or council tax benefit via a telephone call.

“The VRA approach speeds up the claims process and removes the need for customers to provide many different forms of documentary evidence.

“Only calls that are put through the VRA process are recorded and the data protection conventions are adhered to throughout this process.

“We hold the data recorded as part of the verification process securely and this can only be accessed by authorised personnel.

“The data held is private and confidential and is controlled and protected in accordance with the council’s data security policy.”

See full story in the Leader

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