30 December 2004
Secret government plans to introduce lie detector tests to expose fraudulent benefit claims have been uncovered by The Independent. The newspaper claims to have obtained documents which show that both the Department of Trade and Industry and the DWP are considering introducing lie detector tests similar to those now being used by insurance companies.
The detectors would be used during telephone conversations with claimants without their knowledge. Indeed, so concerned are the civil servants about the possible public reaction that they urge that neither claimants nor their representatives should be informed of the existence of the tests during pilots to test their effectiveness.
Telephone lie detectors work by detecting changes in the voice brought about by the stress of telling a lie. Insurance companies claim to have had considerable success in pressuring people to withdraw what they believe to be fraudulent claims as result of using lie detectors. However, the tests have no legal status and cannot be used as evidence in an ordinary court.
But the DWP could use such secret tests to decide which claims to subject to further investigation without ever revealing to the claimant that they had been subject to a lie detector test. If the results of the test were destroyed as soon as the claimant had been referred for further investigation they would not appear in the claimants file and would be unlikely to be discovered via an application under the Freedom of Information Act. Moreover, unlike ordinary courts, there are no rules of evidence in relation to welfare benefits tribunals. So if the DWP did decide to admit to using such tests they would be free to provide the results as part of the evidence for refusing a claim for benefits.