Council’s Lie Detectors are no better than astronomy at detecting fraud

Southwark Council has taken it upon itself to install ‘lie detector tests’ to help root out benefits cheats. The Council claim that the technology, which analyses phone calls for signs of stress in the speaker’s voice, has helped catch 4,000 fraudsters over a four month period.

The voice analysis works by examining the pitch of the callers’ voices when they are asked questions and if the system suspects that someone is telling a lie a beep sounds in the operator’s ear. The operator has then been trained to ask questions which may uncover the truth. The Council has said that anyone who refuses to take part in the call will be visited for an assessment of their claim.

Despite Southwark Council’s claims that the technology is working, the government and academics have voiced their concerns about its reliability. After a trail period in 2008, the Government  decided that this technology doesn’t work, and is barely any more reliable than flipping a coin. An academic study described the technology as being little better than astronomy at detecting fraud.

Considering that both the Government and Academics have ruled out the reliability of the technology it is clear that Southwark Council are wasting people’s money on an illiberal and unproven technology without remorse and is a disgrace.  The Council’s approach to dealing with benefit cheats stinks of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and perhaps it would be more useful to introduce more rigorous checks and testing before benefits are handed out.

This once again demonstrates how quickly councils will jump to ridiculous, dodgy technology to treat their residents as suspects who cannot be trusted. In the interests of equality I hope the same technology will be rolled out in council meetings and the public given access to the results.


  1. Jock Coats
    30th November 2012

    Lambeth started this is 2007 I am reminded: // Presumably one of the trials that concluded it doesn’t work. I wonder if Lambeth still use it?

    • Karen Heath
      17th December 2012

      Lambeth is another council which systematically provides legally false information about entitlement to discounts, It falsely distinguishes ‘single person discount’ from ‘disregard discount’, when there is most certainly no such thing in law as a ‘disregard discount’. Not sure if Capita are involved here, but Lambeth have been acting in breach of CT discount law for a number of years. This involves falsely asserting that certain people are in a legally improper situation to start off with, so if they sound stressed on the phone, it is the maladministration of the council which is probably the cause of the problem.

  2. Council using lie detector tests to root out benefits cheats catches 4,000 fraudsters in just four months | Atos Victims Group News
    30th November 2012

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  3. JJ
    30th November 2012

    Astronomy, or astrology?

  4. Jimmy Dingle
    2nd December 2012

    councils are the enemy of the people

  5. yoyo
    2nd December 2012

    Southwark Council don’t have much luck with IT related issues. 2008 they lost a dataset containing 17,000 records of personal information, found in a skip I believe. 2009 they sued IBM for mismanaging (delivery of a poor system) council data. Now they have employed Capita to overhaul their systems. Capita also ‘warehouse’ data for many local authorities and provide data sharing solutions. Although just a few examples Southwark display what so many organisations suffer from, a lack of experience due to continual staff culling. Decisions appear to be made by inexperienced, target hitting careerists who dread serving more than two years in any position. The lie detector foolishness was probably installed ignorant of prior criticism. As organisations never admit mistakes publicly, councils support appears solid even though urgent meetings are in progress. Time will tell on this one.

    • Karen Heath
      11th December 2012

      The problem with Capita’s ‘data sharing’ solutions is that in the case of council tax, the ‘data’ that are sharing is false: nobody in law should ever be receiving a discount ‘on the assumption’ that they are a sole occupant.

  6. 1 George Orwell’s 1984 Should Be Read By Everyone
    3rd December 2012

    […] it sounds mad, but Southwark are using them right now and have done so on more than 20,000 phone calls. Bit stressed that you have no money and you […]

  7. Karen Heath
    11th December 2012

    This is made more sinister by the fact that Southwark also appears to suspect people of council tax fraud if they are receiving a 25% discount and more than one adult is resident. If Southwark is issuing council tax demand notices on the assumption that only one adult is resident, then it has some explaining to do as this is a clear breach of not just one but two council tax regulations. Nobody is Southwark should ever be receiving a discount on the assumption or on the basis that they are the ‘sole occupant’, and the fact that Southwark states that they are on its web site is simply further evidence of maladministration.

    For an example of the sort of nonsense put out by Southwark, see here


    For council tax discount law see here


    For a neat account of how the called ‘single person discount works, I refer you to a letter written by the (then) Minister Bob Neill to the Guardian Newspaper ‘Your Shout’ page in response to a Guardian Consumer article on the sort of ‘data mining’ used by Capita (who routinely put out false and prejudicial information about council tax discounts). He summed it up quite well: it applies on any day when only one countable adult has his or her sole or main residence at the address. In law the council should issue the demand notice on the assumption that these circumstances will apply on every day of the coming tax year and it should also by law inform the taxpayer that it has done thie.

    So if you live in Southwark, you are not only on the receiving end of dodgy technology, you are on the receiving end of incompetently administered outsourced services from a firm commonly known as ‘Crapita’, and appropriately so in this case.

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