By Natasha Brewer •
Published: 13 May 2021 • 18:19
Universal Credit over payments rise to £8.4 billion, millions of fraud cases to be re-reviewed. Image: Pintrest
Universal Credit over payments rise to £8.4 billion, millions of fraud cases to be re-reviewed.
AFTER a spike in fraud and errors, a top official at the Department of Work and Pensions cautioned that tens of thousands of people might get a “tap on the back” this summer.
Claimants who provided false information during the pandemic face receiving an “administrative penalty,” which would require them to refund any sums they were wrongfully offered out of future benefits.
According to the DWP’s Universal Credit director-general Neil Couling, the most extreme cases of “egregious fraud” will be prosecuted.
Overpayments due to “fraud and error” increased from £4.6 billion in the year to March 2020 to £8.4 billion in the year to March 2021, accounting for 3.9 per cent of all benefit spending.
The increase, which was announced in official figures today, was mostly due to an increase in benefit fraud, which increased from 1.4 per cent to 3 per cent of total spending.
By comparison, benefit underpayments rose only slightly from £2bn to £2.5bn.
Mr Couling said the DWP made an “active decision” to ease checks as face-to-face identification “just wasn’t possible”, but “we were still very alert to suspicious activity.”
Despite the record rise, he insisted “the proportion of cases committing fraud hasn’t gone up” because it accompanied a record rise in all claims.
Mr Couling insisted the exercise to recheck a million cases – around a sixth of all people on Universal Credit – would be “proportionate”.
It will involve, for example, reverifying the identities of people who could not have face-to-face verification due to lockdown.
“These aren’t all fraudulent cases,” he told journalists. “These are just cases that didn’t get the full scrutiny… It’s not a heavy-handed thing we’re doing. We’re just checking the claim and checking the details.”
But the scale of the exercise may spark fears families could be caught out inadvertently due to a mistake. It could also raise comparisons to what critics brand a lack of scrutiny over billions in Covid contracts handed to “cronies” of the government.
Mr Couling told reporters: “We tagged every case that had come in where we couldn’t apply the kind of scrutiny we would normally do.
Mr Couling said that the DWP had now identified over 100,000 criminal frauds online and saved £1.7 billion as a result, including people who created children, inflated their living costs, and altered their birth date to be over 25.
As reported by The Mirror
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