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Lie detectors tested to beat welfare cheats


Joan Burton, minister for Social Protection. Photo: Damien Eagers

Joan Burton, minister for Social Protection. Photo: Damien Eagers

Joan Burton, minister for Social Protection. Photo: Damien Eagers

JOAN Burton's Department of Social Protection has examined the use of cutting-edge lie detector technology to weed out bogus benefit claims.

Voice-risk analysis (VRA) software can be used to help identify suspect cases at the start of a claim by detecting tiny changes in a caller's voice, according to the company that licenses the programme.

The ground-breaking technology was piloted by the UK government five years ago. It was tested on housing and council tax benefit claims first, before being rolled out to job centres later in the year.

It was eventually rejected as unreliable, but not before the government there had spent millions on it over two years.

In response to a query, a spokesperson from the Department of Social Protection here confirmed that last March they had looked at the possible uses of the technology in the fight against benefit fraud.

The spokesperson said the Department – which had an overspend of €685m last year – ultimately decided against using the software.



"The Department is aware of voice-risk analysis software. In general, the application of these technologies has been aimed at official security forces and law enforcement agencies.

"The Department has been provided with information, and a demonstration of this form of technology but, at this juncture, has no immediate plans to pilot or introduce it," she said.

The UK's Department for Work and Pensions spent €1.8m rolling out the technology in 24 local councils before rejecting it as unreliable.

Some scientists have said the system is no more reliable than flipping a coin.

The system, which is also used by the insurance industry to combat fraud, first analyses the characteristics of a caller's 'normal' voice to establish a benchmark. This ensures it takes any natural variation – due to nerves or shyness – into account.

The software then looks for changes in voice tone and frequency, and performs thousands of mathematical calculations to identify signs that someone could be lying.



Callers hear a standard message before they speak, alerting them that the technology is being used. Critics say this could change the way the caller behaves.

In the past, Minister Burton has stated that the Department will take a "zero-tolerance approach towards welfare fraud".