The government has announced its intention to step up its crackdown on welfare scammers this summer, with closer scrutiny of claimants’ spending and lifestyles. Despite the crackdown, fraud and error have already decreased, according to figures from the Department for Works and Pensions.
Fraud remains in some respects the most pervasive crime in the country. It accounts for almost 40 per cent of crimes committed and affects one in 15 Brits every year. However, benefit fraud is declining, with the latest national statistics confirming that fraud and error rates have fallen over the last year.
In 2023, fraud and error fell from 4 per cent (£8.3bn) to 3.6 per cent (£8.7bn) after hitting an all-time high during the pandemic, with Universal Credit losing to fraud and Errors also fell from 14.7 percent to 12.8 percent over the same period, the Daily Record reports.
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Anti-Fraud Minister Tom Pursglove, MP, said: “Benefit fraud is never a victimless crime, which is why it is absolutely right that we prevent money from going to scammers and serious crime groups who want to exploit the system – and to instead people get paid.” Who needs it?
“Fighting fraud meets the Prime Minister’s priorities, lowering our national debt and helping curb inflation by protecting taxpayers’ hard-earned money.”
“Thanks to our prevention work and vigorously prosecuting fraudsters who use the full range of our powers to show that crime doesn’t pay, we’re beginning to see fraud and error rates trending in a positive direction.”
As of the end of March 2023, the DWP had 18,691 ongoing investigations into its reporting systems of suspected benefit fraud, but it is important to note that not all of these are frauds and it is right that we are following due process.
Signage for the Department for Work and Pensions (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)
In the 2022/23 reporting year, it took the DWP an average of 235 working days to complete an investigation into benefit fraud. Mr Pursglove explained the reason for the lengthy period in a recent written response to a question from Labor MP Justin Madders.
The DWP Minister said: “These investigations vary significantly in nature and complexity and no set time can be attributed to any individual investigation.” speed up to ensure that the criminal burden of proof is met.”
Last year the DWP launched a new £613million plan to prevent an estimated £4billion from being lost to fraud and error over the next five years. The Fight Fraud in Welfare Plan comes with a £900m investment that will result in savings of £2.4bn by the end of next year, growing to over £9bn by 2027/28.
These additional funds will allow the department to review millions of Universal Credit applications over the next five years. They also provide information on new and emerging ways to detect fraud and failures in the welfare system.
As part of the fraud plan, if parliamentary time permits, the DWP plans to introduce a range of new powers, including tightening the penal system by introducing a new civil penalty for fraud, which will serve as a deterrent to those cynically trying to exploit it the system.
The new powers would also include requirements for organizations such as banks to securely share data on a larger scale to verify savings levels and determine whether applicants live abroad. There are also plans to expand the powers of DWP officers to conduct searches, seize evidence and make arrests.
Those receiving benefits or their pension from the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) could face closer scrutiny this summer. (Image: South Wales Echo) Definitions of fraud, applicant error and administrative error
The DWP defines the three types of fraud and error.
Claims where all three of the following conditions apply:
the conditions for eligibility or the amount of benefit paid are not met, it can be assumed that the claimant is aware of the impact on their entitlement. The benefit payment is suspended or reduced as a result of the applicant’s verification error
The plaintiff has provided inaccurate or incomplete information or failed to report a change in his circumstances, but there is no evidence of fraudulent intent on the part of the plaintiff.
The benefit has been unduly paid as a result of an omission, a delay or an incorrect assessment by DWP, a local authority or HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) which no one outside that department has contributed significantly to, regardless of whether the business entity processed the information .
The most common form of welfare fraud is for a person to receive unemployment benefits while working. Another possibility is for applicants to indicate that they live alone but are financially supported by a partner or spouse.
Failure to notify the state of a “change of circumstances” such as your partner now living with you, you have moved or a relative has died leaving you some money can also be considered “fraud”. become omission’.
Being accused of fraud can be stressful enough, but the thought of being investigated by officers without really knowing why can lead to undue anxiety.
Many investigators wear civilian clothes and can show up at your home or place of work at any time, which can be intimidating.
But some knowledge of DWP investigations can make all the difference and allow you to live your life as normally as possible while an investigation is ongoing.
Typically, benefit fraud occurs when someone intentionally claims benefits to which they were not entitled, such as by failing to report a change in circumstances or by providing false information.
Beneficiaries could scrutinize their social media activities as part of new plans to stop benefit fraud (Image: Yui Mok/PA Wire) Common examples of benefit fraud
Feigning illness or injury to receive unemployment or disability benefits
Failure to declare earnings from a business or employment to give the impression that earnings are lower than they actually are
Living with someone who contributes to the household income without declaring that income to the authorities
Falsifying accounts to make it appear that a person has less money than they say they have
In any case, the DWP requires proof that someone is receiving a benefit (such as a tax credit or benefit payment) to which they would not normally be entitled.
Fraud investigators have extensive powers that allow them to collect evidence in a variety of ways, including surveillance, interviewing, and document tracking. Under the new proposals, these powers will be extended to the execution of arrest warrants, the search and seizure of evidence and even the making of arrests.
Unfortunately, you will only find out the exact details of the investigation against you afterwards if you are accused of a crime. This can be the case in court.
There is a common misconception that only those under investigation for benefit fraud and other crimes related to the DWP are open to those who cheat the system.
While the DWP responds to reports from the public, it also has its own sophisticated methods of detecting fraudulent activity – which means anyone receiving DWP services can be investigated at any time.
What happens during a DWP investigation?
If the DWP initiates a formal investigation against you, they will notify you either in writing, by telephone or by email – this will usually be by post.
The notification will also tell you if you will receive a visit from a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO) or if you are required to attend an interview.
In the early stages of an investigation, you may not be told that an investigation is ongoing until after the DWP has assessed whether there is good reason to officially investigate a potential fraud case.
As many leads and reports turn out to be false, the DWP wants to make sure they are not wasting their time on pointless investigations. Once there is sufficient evidence of possible fraud, the DWP will open an official investigation and notify you.
DWP investigators are permitted to gather many types of evidence against a potentially fraudulent applicant.
The most common types of evidence
Inspector reports of surveillance activities
photos or videos
Financial data, including bank statements
Interviews with you or people you know
any evidence presented by those who reported you
A common form of welfare fraud is to misrepresent income or not to declare it at all. If you’re claiming unemployment benefits but have documented attendance at a job, the DWP may speak to the owner or manager of that business to find out exactly why you’re there, what work you do, and how much you’re being paid.
Investigators can also check your social media accounts and scour your online profiles for pictures, location checks, and other evidence that may or may not be useful to them. Frequent social media users leave a mark on their lives and habits, often allowing investigators to get a better picture of what that person’s life is actually like.
Ultimately, if this does not match the details of that person’s entitlement to benefits, that evidence can be used against them.
What happens if I am reported to the DWP in error?
False reports about benefit fraud are common in the UK. About 140,000 cases are reported each year, according to some studies.
There is little you can do until the DWP determines that there are no proceedings against you. Cooperate as best you can and remember that those found to have maliciously provided false information may be subject to criminal prosecution.
If you are concerned about a current or future DWP investigation against you or someone you care about, it may be helpful to seek legal advice.