Fraud victims forced to repay benefits they never received

Abigail Fenton
·2 min read
A Job Centre Plus in London. (Philip Toscano/PA Wire/PA Images)
A Job Centre Plus in London as victims of universal credit fraud are being forced to repay money they do not owe. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire/PA Images

Unwitting victims of universal credit fraud are being forced to repay money they do not owe, with many having over £1,000 ($1,358) deducted from their income.

Thousands of Brits have received letters from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) demanding they repay advance universal credit payments they never claimed or received, the BBC reported.

Advance payments are made to universal credit claimants who can't afford to wait the six weeks it takes for their first regular payment to go through, with repayments being deducted from future instalments, or wages if the claimant manages to find work.

However, criminals can use stolen personal information to apply for the benefit in others' names and receive the advance payment, while victims are forced to foot the bill down the line.

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Universal credit fraud has become increasingly common since face-to-face benefits interviews were suspended in March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling into question the security of the current system.

DWP staff in November struggled to handle the number of calls from those who said their identities had been stolen to make fraudulent claims, the Guardian previously reported.

Meanwhile, the BBC reported that a junior civil servant in May noticed dozens of claims for money all set to all be paid into the same bank account, with further investigation uncovering up to 1,000 additional scams. The total amount of money fraudulently claimed came to about £1bn.

A DWP spokesperson told the Guardian: “Any victim of fraud will not be held liable for any debt. Instead, we will seek to recover any losses from the perpetrator.

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“Fraud and error in the benefits system remains very low, with 96.5% of benefits paid correctly.

“We have updated our guidance for call handlers contacted by someone who suspects they are the victim of fraud, to ensure they are supported appropriately.”

However, some victims reported having to set up payment plans for up to £25 a month just to bide their time while trying to get DWP to resolve their issue, lest 20% of their monthly pay packet be seized.

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