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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 August 2010

Private-profit company granted 'snoopers' charter'

PRIME MINISTER David Cameron, using the cover of tackling fraud, is bringing in credit referencing company Experian to challenge the claims of benefit claimants.

Chris Newby

Experian is a massive company with a turnover of nearly 2.5 billion and profits last year of 637 million, a rise of 8% on the previous year. Experian will get a 'bounty' for each person that it identifies as defrauding on benefit payments. Such a system is open to abuse as Experian - a profit making company - has a financial incentive to throw accusations at people in any marginally plausible cases. And we all know how inaccurate their credit checks can be.

Experian has a bit of a murky past. The federal trade commission in the USA has charged consumerinfo.com (a trading name) around $1 million over automatically enrolling customers on Experian's $79.95 credit-monitoring programme after advertising 'free' credit reports.

There are also justifiable concerns about the civil liberties issues of this private company looking into the spending habits of people claiming benefits. But this is not the first time that Experian has been used by government. The previous Labour government had signed a deal with it to scrutinise new housing benefit claimants.

Tax avoidance

Cameron complains that 1.5 billion a year is lost to fraud and overpayments, yet this amount is miniscule compared to the estimated 16 billion in unclaimed benefits or the estimated 120 billion that is lost to government income through tax avoidance, evasion or uncollected taxes. And why no mention of the fact that many 'working poor' have to claim benefits to survive? ie the government pays a subsidy to low paying employers.

If the government is serious about trying to increase government finances, why is it sacking 25,000 tax workers and closing 200 tax offices? Why are massive bonuses still being paid out to bankers at RBS, Lloyds and Northern Rock, having been bailed out with public funds?

And if the government is really concerned about the high levels of housing benefit what is it doing to tackle the extortionate levels of rent that private landlords are charging?

This Con-Dem coalition government, like the previous Labour government, is more intent on defending the interests of big business and the rich than it is on providing decent public services. Paying Experian to snoop on claimants is another example of private companies profiteering from public money.

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In The Socialist 18 August 2010:

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