Two things DWP will look for when it starts checking bank accounts for benefit fraud

The DWP is cracking down on benefit fraud
The DWP is cracking down on benefit fraud -Credit:Getty Images/Science Photo Library

The Department for Work and Pensions will be looking for two main things when it is given new powers to check bank accounts for benefit fraud.

One of the most controversial measures to be introduced is to allow DWP investigators the power to look at claimants' bank accounts. As part of the plans, this is going to be called "Third Party Data Gathering" and the idea is to see whether claimants are misleading the benefits office about their savings or income - making them ineligible to claim.

Under current Universal Credit rules, you do not qualify for the benefit if you have over £16,000 in money, savings and investments. 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, reports the Mirror.

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. 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 says 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 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.”

A DWP spokesperson said 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.