§ Mr. Hancock
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps are taken by his Department to ensure that social security numbers are given to the right person and linked to the right department; what is the cost of this; how many incidents in the years(a) 1998–99 and (b) 1999–2000 were found where people were (i) allocated and (ii) used the wrong national insurance number; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Rooker
The National Insurance Number (NINO) exists to allow this Department and the Inland Revenue to differentiate accurately between the millions of people 289W who do business with them. When a person applies for a NINO, the Department checks its records to see that a NINO has not already been issued and then interviews the person to confirm identity. The interviewer checks the person's circumstances, background and history by asking questions. Answers are confirmed and any documents produced as evidence are authenticated before a NINO is allocated.
The current annual cost of allocating NINOs is £5.4 million.
The total number of NINOs allocated in 1998 was 272,844 compared with 284,144 for 1999. Inevitably, with these volumes, the system is subject to instances of existing numbers not being traced correctly and duplicate accounts being created in error. Unfortunately, data on wrongly allocated NINOs are not available in the format requested. However, in order to address this issue the Department has established a comprehensive programme of data cleansing.
The Identity Fraud Unit has recorded 1,314 false NINOs and accounts since it was established in 1997.
The Department is committed to ensuring that NINOs are issued, used and controlled consistently. Our overall aim is to always establish the correct identity of a person prior to providing a benefit or service to ensure that we are dealing with the right person. We will continue to develop and implement strategies that enable us to achieve this aim.