DWP Could Monitor Your Bank Account and Social Media Activity During Holiday Season
There are over 20 million people across the UK applying for state benefits or pensions from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and that figure is expected to rise now that all financial support measures related to coronaviruses have been removed.
The DWP announced earlier this year that fraud and errors in the UK benefits system have reached record levels, with £ 8.4bn in excess in the last fiscal year.
The DWP estimates that 3.9% of benefit expenditure was overpaid during 2020/21 – the highest rate to date with some £ 6.3bn of overpayments believed to be due to the fraud, resulting primarily from universal credit claims.
Commenting on the numbers at the time, a DWP spokesperson said: “We also have strong plans in place to recover fraudulent claims and reduce fraud and errors to the lowest possible level.”
Universal Credit chief executive Neil Couling also said thousands of applicants could be approached as the DWP continues its exercise of fraud and error.
Benefit claimants who gave incorrect information during the pandemic risk being subject to an “administrative penalty”, which will be recovered by a deduction from their future benefits.
The DWP’s definition of benefit fraud is when “someone obtains government benefits to which they are not entitled or willfully fails to report a change in their personal circumstances.”
The most common form of benefit fraud is when a person receives unemployment benefit while working. Another is when applicants state that they live alone, but are financially supported by a partner or spouse.
Failure to notify the State of a “change in circumstances”, for example, that your partner is now living with you, or that you have moved, or that a relative has passed away leaving you money may also be considered. as a ‘scam of omission’.
Being accused of fraud by the DWP can be stressful enough, but the thought of being investigated by officials without really knowing why can lead to undue concern.
Many investigators wear civilian clothes and can come to your home or work anytime, which can be scary.
But having some knowledge of DWP investigations can make all the difference, allowing you to live your life as normally as possible while an investigation is in progress.
Usually, benefit fraud occurs when a person has requested benefits to which they were not intentionally entitled, for example by not reporting a change in circumstances or by providing false information.
Common examples of benefit fraud
simulate illness or injury to obtain unemployment or disability benefits
failing to report income from a business or employment to make it appear that the income is less than it actually is
live with a person who contributes to the household income without declaring this income to the authorities
falsifying accounts to make it look like a person has less money than they claim
In each circumstance, the DWP will need evidence showing that a person is receiving a benefit (a tax credit or a benefit payment, for example) to which they would not normally be entitled.
Fraud investigators have a wide range of powers that allow them to gather evidence in a number of ways, including surveillance, interviews, and document search.
Unfortunately, you won’t know the exact details of an investigation being carried out against you until you find out afterwards – which may be in court if you are charged with an offense.
There is a common misconception that the only people who are investigated for benefit fraud and other DWP offenses are those who blatantly defraud the system.
While the DWP acts on public reporting, it also has its own sophisticated means of detecting fraudulent activity, meaning anyone benefiting from the DWP can be investigated at any time.
What Happens During a DWP Investigation?
If the DWP is going to open a formal investigation against you, they will notify you either in writing, by phone, or by email – this is usually done by post.
When you are notified, you will also be informed if you are due to be visited by a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO) or if they ask you to attend an interview.
At the start of an investigation, you may not be told that an investigation is in progress until the DWP assesses whether there are good reasons to formally investigate a potential case of fraud.
Many denunciations and reports turn out to be false, so the DWP wants to make sure they don’t waste their time in an unnecessary investigation.
As soon as there is sufficient evidence of a potential fraud, the DWP will launch a formal investigation and notify you.
DWP investigators are authorized to collect many types of evidence against a potentially fraudulent claimant.
Most common types of evidence
inspectors’ reports on surveillance activities
photographs or videos
financial data, including bank statements
interviews with you or people you know
any evidence submitted by those who reported to you
A common form of benefit fraud is misrepresenting income, or not fully reporting it.
If you are applying for unemployment benefits but go to a workplace, the DWP may speak to the owner or manager of that business to find out exactly why you are there, what work you are doing, and how much you are paid.
Investigators can also check your social media accounts and search your online profiles for photos, location records, and other evidence that may or may not be of use to them.
Those who use social media a lot will leave a mark of their lives and habits, often allowing investigators to piece together a picture of what that person’s life really looks like.
If that doesn’t match the details of that person’s benefit claim, that evidence may end up being used against them.
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What if I am falsely reported to the DWP?
False claims of benefit fraud are common in the UK, with some studies indicating that there are around 140,000 each year.
Until the DWP determines that there is no case against you, there is little that you can do. Cooperate as best you can and remember that those who have misrepresented for malicious reasons may end up being prosecuted.
If you are concerned about a current or future DWP investigation against you or someone dear to you, seeking legal advice may help.
Citizens Advice Scotland may also be able to offer free and unbiased advice, you can contact them here.
You can report fraud by calling MyGov.Scot free of charge on 0800 158 2071 or by mail here.
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