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'Lie Detector' Tests to be Given by Council

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2:34pm 23rd January 2013
(Updated 2:34pm 23rd January 2013)

Pirate FM has learnt 'lie detector' tests are going to be given to people in Cornwall and some could be elderly or vulnerable.

The council is spending £50,000 on the scheme to check whether everyone claiming a council tax discount is actually living on their own.

Private company Capita will conduct the telephone interviews.

That is despite campaigners warning academic studies claim "voice risk analysis" can be little better than chance.

Fiona Ferguson was part of the cabinet that runs the council. She quit and blew the whistle on the scheme.

You can read her letter of resignation and the council's response to it here.

She told Pirate FM: "The council didn't have any plan to tell people about this. We are getting to the point where these interviews will start happening. I haven't been told the exact date but my concern is that unless I actually go public on it then it will start being used without people knowing.

"Now that we've behaved in a way that is less than forthright we need to have a clear policy at the council that we will not use this sort of technology."

People living on their own are entitled to a 25% reduction in their council tax.

Letters have already been sent to 30,000 households in the Duchy.

In a statement the council said: "Telephone interviews will now be carried out with a number of claimants to verify the details they have provided. These interviews will be carried out by trained assessors who will use specialist technology to assist this process. This technology has been successfully used by a number of local authorities carrying out similar reviews.

"All claimants will be advised that the calls will be recorded, monitored and used for fraud prevention purposes."

Emma Carr from campaign group Big Brother Watch said: "There needs to be much better measures put in place when people apply for benefits in the first place. It's not something you expect in a country like England. It's much more akin to the sort of thing that you would see in China or Iran.

"I'd like to think the council isn't going to resort to snooping on people."

Capita, the private company carrying out the review on behalf of the council, refused our offer of an interview to explain the technology, telling us "no comment."

Officials have claimed lie detectors could catch more than three thousand cheats in Cornwall.

Lance Kennedy, from Cornwall Council's Cabinet, insisted it was just another screening tool.

He said: "There's a huge difference between not telling somebody something and keeping it a secret. When you're trying to catch thieves, you don't tell them in advance that you're trying to catch them. You're trying to gather this information so that we can protect the genuine, honest members of the public who are paying their rates, paying their taxes, and making legitimate claims."

Pirate FM asked spokesman Lance Kennedy if we could run lie detectors on the council, to which he responded: "As far as I'm concerned, you're more than welcome to put any stress monitoring you like on the phone. I have never knowingly lied to any member of the public and I am always more than willing. If you want to do the stress testing, please feel free. Though, my colleagues, I can't speak for them."

2:34pm 23rd January 2013

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