Govt scours Brits’ bank accounts and social media in benefit fraud checks

The government combs Universal Credit claimants' social media and bank accounts to check for fraud, the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted.

Benefit fraud occurs when state welfare receivers get benefits they aren't entitled to, or fail to report a "change in personal circumstances" which would mean they no longer qualify.

The costly fraud reached a record £8.4 billion in the last financial year, the Liverpool Echo reported, in part because coronavirus made in-person Job Centre appointments impossible.

The government has also narrowed the criteria under which claimants can apply for Universal Credit, increasing the number gaining payouts they are not entitled to.

But the DWP has been criticised for scanning claimants' social media profiles and even bank accounts to check spending patterns.

And if claimants' social media profiles give a different impression to the circumstances they have declared to the authorities, the government can sanction and even prosecute them.

"Administrative penalties" in the form of deductions to future benefit payments increased during the pandemic.

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Benefit fraud most commonly takes place when a person claims unemployment benefits while in work.

Another form occurs when claimants say they live alone, but are in reality financially supported by a partner or spouse.

Just under 5 million Brit households claim Universal Credit as of May 2021, which was introduced to replace Jobseekers' Allowance and numerous other benefits in 2013.

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Almost half of those are single people without children, with a further quarter being single parents.

Just over 10% are couples with children and 3% are couples with no children.

The number claiming the benefit has shot up from 2.5 million in November 2019.

DWP investigators have striven to get a handle on the number of those claiming the payout unfairly.

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They are legally entitled to show up in plain clothes to claimants' home or workplace at any time.

Checkers can also search the bank accounts and social media profiles of claimants they suspect of wrongdoing.

Other powers include surveillance, interviews and document tracing.

Though benefit fraud is on the rise, the money lost via false claims is still numbered to be around 4% of the £200 billion annual welfare budget.

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The £8 billion lost in 2021 to benefit fraud compares to a whopping £35 billion pilfered via tax fraud, mostly via accounting loopholes.

A DWP spokesperson said: "We also have robust plans in place to recover fraudulent claims and drive fraud and error down to the lowest feasible level."

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