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Identity theft victims told to repay Universal Credit they never claimed

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People have received letters from the Department for Work and Pensions demanding they repay Universal Credit sums they never claimed or received.

Fraudsters have stolen people’s details to apply for the advance payment of Universal Credit as it takes five weeks for the claim and money to go through.

While the scammers receive the payment, the person who has had their identity stolen picks up the bill. If it’s not voluntarily repaid, DWP can claw back the money via salaries by issuing direct earning notices to employers. If employers fail to comply, they can face a fine.

According to BBC Radio 4’s Money Box programme, it has heard from several listeners in this case, and many involve payments of more than £1,000.

The people have often received the DWP notices out of the blue and have then spent hours trying to get through to the government to explain they’ve never claimed the benefit and that they’ve fallen victim to identity fraud.

The DWP has set up a stolen identity team to investigate such claims as it was revealed there had been nearly 6,000 suspected cases of Universal Credit identity theft in the past six months, which could cost the government up to £221m.

DWP told Money Box it had updated telephone messaging and guidance for call handlers and introduced a new process for these victims.

It also urged anyone who had been unable to contact it to try again using the number 0800 916 0647.

A DWP spokesperson, said: “Fraud and error in the benefits system remains very low, with 96.5% of benefits paid correctly and we can assure those who are a victim of fraud they will not be held liable for any debt.

“Our Debt Management Contact Centre recently saw an increase in demand and we have updated our telephone messaging and guidance for call handlers as a result.

“We always endeavour to meet the highest customer service standards – we apologise for the inconvenience and ask anyone who has been unable to get through to contact us again.”

More than five million people are now in receipt of Universal Credit after the benefit saw a spike in applicants amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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