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Thousands of Universal Credit claims flagged under fraud checks

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The government reviewed hundreds of thousands of benefit claims paid at the onset of the pandemic and found “incorrectness” in one in 10, with the majority relating to Universal Credit.

As the pandemic hit Britain, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suspended some verification processes allowing benefits to be paid quickly at a time of soaring claims.

An additional three million Universal Credit claims were made in the early period of Covid-19 and the DWP revisited over 900,000 “high risk claims” with “incorrectness found in just over 11%”.

The majority of these “high risk claims” relate to Universal Credit and means that 99,000 claims are now under the spotlight.

Government records don’t allow the overpayments to be split between fraud and claimant error.

For some claimants, they may just need to verify their ID. For others, any overpayments will be referred to DWP’s debt management team for recovery.

DWP said it can work out affordable repayment plans, based on individual circumstances.

Rachel Ingleby, benefits expert at Citizens Advice, said: “In most cases, the DWP will try to recoup money for a Universal Credit overpayment via a deduction. This means they’ll reduce the amount of benefits you’re paid each month until the debt is repaid.

“Of course, when deductions come out of the blue, that can make it really hard for people to manage their money.

‘If you’ve been affected by a benefits overpayment and are struggling, your local Citizens Advice can help with free advice.”

Fraud and error

The figures come amid a report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee which revealed estimated losses from fraud and error across all Covid-19 government support schemes is expected at £15bn.

However, DWP said it managed fraud and error throughout the pandemic by mitigating easements, scrutinising suspicious cases and implementing retrospective checks.

This saved £3bn from being paid incorrectly.

A DWP spokesman, said: “At the onset of the pandemic we suspended certain verification processes as we could no longer see customers face-to-face, making customers aware that we may return to seek this verification in the future. We prioritised supporting record numbers of genuine claimants and thanks to this decision, the Universal Credit system stood up to the challenge of the pandemic so people received vital financial support at their time of need.

“We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure public money is properly spent. Therefore it is right and lawful that we seek to recover payments that claimants were not entitled to.

“Fraud and error in the benefit system is rare, with 95% of benefits worth more than £200bn paid correctly, and just 0.4% of benefits being overpaid due to DWP error.”