Fraud and error reached record levels during the pandemic, with a reported £8.4 billion overpaid in the last financial year. The Department for Work and Pensions is now cracking down on benefit fraud across the country
Image: Getty Images/EyeEm)
Bank and social media accounts are going to be looked at by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as they carry out their crackdown on benefit fraud.
Currently, there are 23 million people on DWP pay-outs – 12.4million of whom claim State Pension and almost 6 million of whom claim Universal Credit.
There are also 2.9 million people claiming Housing Benefit, 2.7million on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and 1.8 million people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
However, during the pandemic, fraud and error in the UK benefits system reached record levels, with a reported £8.4 billion overpaid in the last financial year.
The DWP estimates that 3.9 per cent of benefits spending was overpaid during 2020/21, with £6.3 billion of the overpayments believed to be due to fraud, primarily arising from Universal Credit claims, BirminghamLive reports.
Universal Credit director-general Neil Couling stated that the DWP’s fraud and error probe could see thousands of claimants approached over the coming months.
Investigators can turn up at your home or workplace at any time in plain clothes if they suspect foul play.
In Pictures via Getty Images)
They also use a wide range of powers to gather evidence such as surveillance, document tracing, interviews, checking your bank accounts and monitoring your social media.
The DWP said: “In simple terms an overpayment is benefit that the claimant has received but is not entitled to.
“Overpayments of benefit can occur in a number of ways. In the main they are due to claimant, system or official error.”
The DWP has outlined seven types of overpayments it looks for:
- mistake by the claimant (non-disclosure of circumstances or incomplete form)
- deliberate fraud by the claimant (failing to disclose a material fact or deliberate misrepresentation)
- interim and advance payments including short term benefit advance that could not be recovered from the benefit for which they were paid
- Universal Credit recoverable hardship payments (classed as an overpayment for recovery purposes if recovery can no longer be taken from the benefit that was in place at the time of payment)
- overpayment due to late award of other benefit/income
- overpayments due to the way in which the Direct Payment banking system operates
- official error – only applies to Universal Credit and contributory Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance claims made on or after April 29, 2013
Getty Images/Image Source)
In each of those cases, the DWP can make efforts to get the money back under Social Security legislation.
You may be taken to court where a fine of up to £5,000 can be imposed. A person’s benefits can be cut for up to three years if they are convicted of benefit fraud.
But not all benefits can be reduced or stopped – see the full list here.
A DWP spokesman said: “We take any abuse of taxpayers’ money very seriously and those who claim benefits they are not entitled to will face criminal prosecution.
“We also have robust plans in place to recover fraudulent claims and drive fraud and error down to the lowest feasible level.”