U.K.'s new way to prevent people from assuming identity of deceased persons

Published 23 December 2008

A new — and controversial — regulation allows U.K. government agencies more sharing of personal data they hold of U.K. citizens; the Home Office says one benefit of the new regulation is better prevention of fraudsters assuming the identity of dead people

We wrote that in the United Kingdom, it appears as if a week does not go by without another debate about government reach for more data and pushback by privacy advocates. The latest cause for debate was the U.K. government’s proposals three weeks ago to increase data sharing between departments — a proposal which was conveniently (the critics said) buried in the Coroners and Justice Bill (see 8 December 2008 HS Daily Wire). Well, the bill passed, and the Home Office says that it — and an early version of it, in place since September — have a salutary effect on one aspect of government operations: the new weekly register of deaths mailout is “hastening the demise of a cruel type of identity fraud” by catching pension cheats who impersonate dead people.

Chris Williams writes that so far four “carefully vetted” organizations have been approved by the General Register Office (GRO) — part of the Identity and Passport Service — to receive copies of 12,000 dead people’s personal details each week. It allows specialized “mortality screening” firms to check whether pension claims are legit. Junior minister Meg Hillier said: “The use of death records in this way will have a dramatic impact on fraudsters abusing people’s deaths — a crime which causes financial and personal distress to both businesses and individuals alike.”

Faraday Tracing Bureau is one of the early users of the GRO list, and carries out checks for 200 pension firms. Sales director Chris Rattenbury said: “Firms undertaking mortality screening were finding on average that one in four hundred pensions were being claimed fraudulently sometimes for as long as ten years. This new process will stop this kind of fraud completely.”

The other mortality screeners so far approved are Tracesmart, Synectics Solutions, and Experian. The scheme began at the end of September under new data sharing powers assumed by the GRO under the Police and Justice Act 2006. The vetting criteria and list of eligible organizations are available at the Web site of the Identity and Passport Service.