DWP looking for these two things when it starts checking bank accounts

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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is set to be granted new powers to check bank accounts as part of a raft of measures to combat fraud, debt and errors in the benefits system. The department set out the two things it will be looking for as it starts checking the bank accounts of benefits recipients.

The measure is called 'Third Party Data Gathering' and is described as a "data sharing" power, requiring third parties, such as banks, to provide relevant information to the DWP. This information may show a claimant does not meet the eligibility criteria for a benefit they are in receipt of.

This could include things such as having too much squirrelled away in savings accounts. Under current Universal Credit rules, you do not qualify if you have over £16,000 in money, savings and investments, according to The Mirror.

The DWP says this will be its "main priority". Alongside this, it will also monitor if claimants are staying overseas for longer than the rules allow. A new amendment to the bill - which is currently on its way to the House of Lords - also obliges banks to monitor their customers who are on these benefits, and report to the DWP if an account goes over the capital limit or is used abroad for more than four weeks

The DWP has assured individuals that the measure will only see them receive "limited and relevant" information that may signal whether benefits are being improperly paid. It will not allow them to access anyone's bank account or see how claimants are spending their money.

In a previous update, the DWP says it will monitor accounts from the UK's top 15 banks which covers 97% of benefit claimant's bank accounts and includes the Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Halifax, HSBC, NatWest, Santander and TSB.

The DWP say that each identified claim will be investigated in the normal way and that penalties will not be automatically imposed. It has also confirmed in a recent assessment document that there will be no "automatic decisions" made on data alone, and that caseworkers will bear in mind the potential vulnerability of claimants and that automation will be used responsibly.

The assessment document said: "[This] measure can potentially include vulnerable people, [and] these areas will be explored further in the equality impact assessment. We are clear, however, that no automatic decisions will be made based on data alone, and DWP staff will follow the usual business processes when looking into any cases, taking account of circumstances and wider vulnerabilities before deciding on a course of action.”

The measures continue to cause uproar with campaign groups arguing that the DWP would be treating means-tested benefit claimants as "criminal by default".

Silkie Carlo, director for Big Brother Watch, said: "Such proposals do away with the long-standing democratic principle in Britain that state surveillance should follow suspicion rather than vice versa. It would be dangerous for everyone if the government reverses this presumption of innocence. This level of financial intrusion and monitoring affecting millions of people is highly likely to result in serious mistakes and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent."

A DWP spokesperson stated that these measures would target areas where fraud and error are highest, like Universal Credit, and added: "These changes will not allow DWP direct access to bank accounts, but will require third parties to share data signalling fraud with us so it can be considered further. It will also help identify people who have made a genuine mistake with their claim, preventing them from potential debts."

The plans were first launched in the 2022 policy paper on "Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System" which you can read here.

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