DWP spells out exactly who will be looking at benefit claimants' bank accounts

File picture of two people using cashpoints outside a Lloyds Bank branch in Birmingham as a woman walks past
A law that gives the DWP the power to access financial information is going through parliament -Credit:newsteam.co.uk

There has been consternation about benefit claimants undergoing "mass surveillance" by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for months, following the announcement of new powers to access bank account information. But, in a recently published plan to tackle fraud, the department has spelled out exactly who will access this information.

Rather than have civil servants poring over account statements, banks will be asked by the DWP to provide information to help them investigate potential fraud, with each bank asked to check the claimant's information against benefit eligibility criteria. Though the DWP has indicated that this system could be automated, or even run by AI, they have stated that they will not be accessing accounts themselves.

This change will stop the reliance on claimants accurately self-reporting financial information to their Work Coach. In their recently published Fraud Plan, the DWP explains: "This will require third parties to look within their own data and provide relevant information to DWP to help identify cases which merit further consideration to establish whether benefits are being, or have been, properly paid in accordance with the rules relating to those benefits."

READ MORE: More WASPI women could die waiting for justice after Prime Minister says he will 'take time'

The Fraud Plan was released alongside an announcement that the DWP was in the process of hiring a further 2,500 "external agents" to assist them with investigating potential fraud and error in the benefits system, which the department says could amount to as much as £8 billion a year.

As income is now monitored through the PAYE system, fraud and error surrounding income have been largely eliminated. However, one form of benefit fraud that the DWP is targeting with its new powers is the non-disclosure of capital assets, which can affect a variety of claims as you can not have more than £16,000 in assets and claim Universal Credit.

However, this does not mean that DWP agents will get to snoop on anyone's personal information, as the only information that will be shared is that which could indicate fraud. Only the banks will be able to look at your account, under the power granted by the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill currently going through Parliament.

The plan states: "There are a number of safeguards and limitations on the power. Specifically, when we issue a request for data to a third party, we can only ask them to provide data where it may help DWP identify cases that may merit further consideration to establish whether benefits are being, or have been, properly paid in accordance with the rules relating to those benefits.

"Furthermore, we can only make these requests for information where there is a link between DWP, the third party and the benefit claimant or recipient of payment. DWP will only receive data on accounts matching criteria DWP prescribe; these criteria will be linked to eligibility rules for benefits which, if met, may signal potential fraud or error. It is only if these criteria are met that DWP will receive data from third parties."