DWP fraud warning as 2500 'external agents' hired to spot Universal Credit mistakes

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) crackdown on benefit claimants was taken into a higher gear today (May 13), as bosses announced the mass hiring of "external agents" to investigate people who receive Universal Credit, alongside further powers to arrest and conduct searches.

Around 2500 additional external staff members are being brought into the DWP to help them scale up their fraud investigations, which have drawn some criticism in the past few months amid revelations of carers being pursued for large sums of money after being overpaid by the department.

This increase in the workforce represents a 70 per cent rise in staffing levels to help with the DWP's current Targeted Case Review, which the department says is to "help spot incorrectness in Universal Credit claims." Last year alone, the DWP says it saved £1.3bn through investigating fraud and error in the benefits system.

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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.”

According to charity Disability Rights, regarding the sharp rise in Personal Independence Payment claims which sparked the government crackdown on benefits, fraud represents just 0.2 per cent of all claims. The charity has previously compared the DWP's new powers to tackle fraud with using "a sledgehammer to crack the tiniest nut."

However, the DWP says continuing this fraud and error crackdown on claimants could save £9bn by 2028. This will mean taking on similar powers to HMRC to investigate, arrest, and prosecute fraudsters, alongside additional powers to monitor the bank accounts of all benefit claimants, a new power currently going through parliament in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

The DWP also stated that they would use "machine learning" and data analysis to better detect fraud, though any final decision as to whether someone receives benefits will remain in the hands of a human member of DWP staff, and not a computer.