Currently, more than 20 million people in the UK claim benefits or a state pension. The number of people on Universal Credit, the benefit which is replacing six legacy benefits, shot up amid the coronavirus pandemic, peaking at six million on March 11, 2021.
Since then, there has been a gradual fall of 1.4 percent (83,000) in the number of people on Universal Credit between March and June 2021.
And while many will receive the money they are entitled to, fraud and error in the UK benefits system reached record levels during the pandemic, according to Lancs Live.
In the last financial year, £8.4billion was reportedly overpaid.
A DWP spokesperson has said: “We also have robust plans in place to recover fraudulent claims and drive fraud and error down to the lowest feasible level.”
Neil Couling, Universal Credit director-general, said thousands of claimants could be approached over the coming months as the DWP continues with its fraud and error exercise.
Amid the review, claimants who gave the wrong information during the pandemic risk being hit with an “administrative penalty”.
The money would be recovered through a deduction from future benefits, meaning people could face getting less per month in the future.
Since 1996, more than £2billion was detected or prevented through the National Fraud Initiative (NFI), the Cabinet Office said last month.
Cabinet Office Minister, Lord Agnew, said: “The work done by the National Fraud Initiative is keeping nefarious fingers out of the public purse, protecting funding which can go towards essential services such as the NHS.
“It’s entirely right that British taxpayers expect the Government to protect their hard-earned money and programmes such as these allow us to do exactly that.”
Senior Investigator at the NHS Counter Fraud Authority, Ben Rowe, said: “The National Fraud Initiative was key in identifying a serious fraud being perpetrated by someone in a position of trust who was stealing large sums of money intended for essential NHS services.
“The scheme offers an excellent example of collaborative working between government agencies being done right.”
One case discovered a man had fraudulently claimed more than £40,000 of incapacity benefit, income support and council tax benefits.
After it was detected by the NFI, further investigation found he owned several small businesses, had savings of more than £100,000 and owned a Mercedes Benz complete with personalised number plates.
A person commits benefit fraud if they claim benefits they’re not entitled to on purpose.
This may be done by not reporting a change in circumstances or by providing false information.
If the DWP believes benefit fraud could be taking place, it can use special powers to collect relevant information on claimants.
This is granted under the Social Security Administration Act, and it allows the Department to monitor a person’s bank account, and even their social media, if they believe there is reason to do so.
The DWP’s Code of Practice on Obtaining Information states Authorised Officers are able to ask for information about people within a family “only where their circumstances are directly relevant to the benefit claim being investigated”.
An example of this is if a person is claiming an income-related benefit but isn’t declaring their partner’s earnings.
As well as enquiring about the claimant, Authorised Officers could make enquiries in relation to the partner’s bank account too.
An MP question submitted in 2016 asked the DWP a question about publicly available content on social networking sites.
Responding, Caroline Nokes MP, who was Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, explains how social media is used.
She said: “DWP does monitor content that is publicly available on social networking sites using overt monitoring techniques.
“We do not, however, take on false identities in order to monitor publicly available content available on social networking sites online.”