DWP announces new 2,500-strong team for bank account and raids benefits crackdown

Secretary of State Mel Stride said 'our comprehensive plan ensures we have the necessary tools to tackle the scourge of benefit fraud'
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride said 'our comprehensive plan ensures we have the necessary tools to tackle the scourge of benefit fraud' -Credit:Getty Images

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced a massive 2,500 team which will check Universal Credit claims - including potentially getting information from bank accounts to see if fraud is being committed. The DWP said that it has saved £1.3 billion from fraud and error in the last 12 months in a crackdown.

Anti-error and fraud operations in the last 12 months have included smashing a £53.9 million Universal Credit scam which was described as Britain’s biggest-ever benefit fraud case. In a plan announced today, the DWP said it wanted to save £9 billion in the next four years.

As past of that it is recruiting 2,500 investigators to check millions of Universal Credit claims for accuracy. In addition, the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill currently before Parliament will help the Department, working with third parties such as banks, to identify claims that signal potential fraud and error. Legislation will also allow DWP staff to carry out raids on homes and make arrests.

This means the DWP will work with banks to check the accounts of people where fraud is suspected to see if they have too much savings and see their incomings and outgoings. There will be a new civil penalty to punish fraudsters, and it will invest £70 million into advanced data analytics. The DWP said: “These measures will mean those who wish to exploit the natural compassion and generosity of the British people will have nowhere to hide.”

The information gathering bill allowing banks to provide information to investigators will, the DWP said, recover an extra £600 million. The news comes on the heels of the Prime Minister setting out sweeping reforms of the welfare system last month, including a new bill in the next Parliament to tackle benefit fraud head-on. DWP will commit to introducing legislation meaning its investigations mirror HMRC powers for tax, such as the ability to make arrests and conduct searches and seizures by warrant, and will also modernise information-gathering powers to help prove or disprove fraud more quickly.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride, said: “We are scaling up the fight against those stealing from the taxpayer, building on our success in stopping £18 billion going into the wrong hands in 2022-23.

“With new legal powers, better data and thousands of additional staff, our comprehensive plan ensures we have the necessary tools to tackle the scourge of benefit fraud.

DWP is building on this by hiring over 2,500 external agents on a temporary basis as part of the Targeted Case Review to help spot incorrectness in Universal Credit claims. Combined with DWP’s own internal agents in the review, this will take the headcount to nearly 6,000 people.

The DWP is also exploring a new civil penalty to punish fraudsters, potentially broadening the scope of cases that can receive a penalty when the courts are not prosecuting, and increasing the value of the civil penalty. On top of this, the DWP will also make changes to Universal Credit including new partly automated checks on self-employed income, new online prompts for claimants to re-declare their circumstances (such as if they have moved in with a partner), and increasing checks on capital when people claim the benefit to ensure they are eligible.

These measures will be backed up by advanced data analytics, using machine learning, to detect and prevent fraudulent claims. Final decisions on accepting or stopping any claim will continue to be made by a member of DWP staff.

The plan comes as fraud has become responsible for almost 40% of all crime, with just over a quarter of respondents to the 2022 British Social Attitudes Survey saying that it is either ‘Not Wrong’ or only ‘A Bit Wrong’ for an unemployed benefit claimant to not report £3,000 from a casual job. In rules which came into force today, universal credit claimants working less than 18 hours a week will from Monday have to look for more work.

As part of the Government’s sweeping changes to the welfare system, ministers are raising the administrative earnings threshold from the equivalent of 15 hours to 18 hours at national living wage for an individual claimant. That means those working less than half of a full-time week will have to meet their work coach more often to boost their earnings, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Rishi Sunak’s plans to tackle the UK’s so-called ‘sick note culture’ with a series of welfare reforms have been slammed as ‘cruel’ and part of an ‘ongoing onslaught’ on the vulnerable.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute said: “Many disabled people want to work, but don’t get enough help to do so either from employers or from the government. Focusing on the sign-off process for sick notes will miss the point without more root and branch reform to widen support, said Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute.

“Only one in ten out-of-work disabled people get help to find work each year, but two in ten want to work. We need to tackle the employment support gap, help employers to better support people with health conditions and disabilities and look at how they design jobs and recruit, and improve health and other support for disabled people.”