A lie detection system for benefit applicants being trialled in Birmingham will be rolled out across the country if it proves successful.          (Lie detectors to fight benefit fraud)

Twelve councils, including Birmingham and Warwick, have volunteered to test the system - known as telephone voice risk analysis technology - which detects changes in a caller's voice which could indicate a fraudulent claim is being made.

The intention eventually is to use the technology for the entire benefits system, Work and Pensions Minister James Plaskitt confirmed.

Mr Plaskitt (Lab Warwick & Leamington) had sanctioned the pilot projects after being impressed by results in the insurance industry, which has been using voice recognition technology to detect false claims for some time.

He rejected claims by trade unions that telephone monitoring could scare innocent people into dropping claims, adding that taxpayers expected the Government to rigorously check benefit applications.

Mr Plaskitt also insisted the technology should not be referred to as a lie detector.

"It is not a lie detector. You have to be physically plugged into a lie detector with electrodes strapped on you, It is a very invasive mechanism. This is simply registering stress in someone's voice," he added.

Mr Plaskitt said: "It works on the basis of registering the default level of stress in the first few exchanges of telephone conversation. As you proceed through the conversation and start to ask more important questions the graph will shoot up if the stress level in the voice rises.

"One of the reasons why stress levels rise may be because a person is not telling the truth. On a call where increased stress levels are detected we will go through a different verification process for the claim, a more detailed process than normal.

"It will flag up claims that appear suspicious and then we can do additional checking."

He insisted a change in stress levels would not necessarily point to guilt.

"There may be other reasons for stress levels going up, we don't assume it is down to telling untruths."

Mr Plaskitt said he believed opposition from the TUC was unwarranted, adding that he was prepared to defend voice recognition systems "on many grounds".

He added: "It is absolutely the right thing to do. It has the potential to help us deal more quickly with legitimate claims.

"We have an obligation to the taxpayer who expects us to do everything we can to make sure claims are properly verified and legitimate. I will defend the use of technology to help us achieve that and I am confident taxpayers expect us to have these safeguards in place.

"The staff we have trained to use it really like working it. Reports are extremely positive."

He said benefit claimants could opt out of having their calls recorded if they wished.

"We always tell the person who is making the call that the technology is being used. If someone is not happy about the technology being used they don't have to proceed."

>> Lie detectors to fight benefit fraud