DWP staffers given powers to arrest Britons in crackdown on Universal Credit fraud
Tory DWP boss Therese Coffey is set to announce sweeping legislation to mass request bank account details and smack people with fines even if they haven’t been convicted of a crime. But work on the law will begin in a year at the earliest
Image: Zuma Press/PA Images)
DWP staff given powers to arrest Britons in crackdown on Universal Credit
Two million claimants will dredge up their cases and face fines under sweeping fraud laws — even if they haven’t been convicted of a crime.
Officials at the Department of Works and Pensions can more easily request bank details in bulk to spot check whether people are cheating on the job center.
DWP staff will then make arrests, execute warrants, conduct searches and seize evidence themselves, rather than letting the police do the work.
Even if a case doesn’t make it to court, they are then given the power to impose civil fines – like those imposed by HMRC.
But Tory ministers are accused of making headlines as there is no timetable for a new law and it is unlikely to start work in at least a year.
Many of the new powers will need an Act of Parliament – but this is not expected to be introduced until May 2023 at the earliest.
PA archive/PA images)
Shadow Employment Secretary Alison McGovern said the Tories had “left the coffers open to organized crime” during Covid.
She said if ministers “had taken fraud seriously, they would have taken action to secure the £11bn.
The move is part of a £200million-a-year benefit fraud crackdown announced today, which ministers claim will save £670million a year.
It comes after benefit overpayments rose to a record £8.3bn due to fraud and errors in 2020/21.
But that includes mistakes made by the department or applicant—not just intentional fraud.
Today’s anti-fraud plan will be announced by Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey and Efficiency Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg.
It reiterates its promise to hire 2,000 staff to handle 2 million cases over five years, from new claims to existing ones flagged as potentially suspicious.
Cases could be flagged through data matching and algorithms, something that has worried activists in the past. Officials insist human agents conduct the checks.
Agents are already being recruited across the country and DWP bosses hope to have them all in place by the fall.
But a sweeping new law by Parliament would vastly expand their powers.
It would give a smaller DWP investigative team the power to arrest people on suspicion of crime for the first time.
Sources insist this would only be a small number of staff – not all 2,000 agents – and would only apply to serious crimes.
However, if they are unable to take the cases to court, they could impose civil fines on beneficiaries instead.
These fines will be easier to enforce – because they are based on “balance of probabilities” rather than criminal evidence “beyond reasonable doubt”.
The fines are a fixed percentage of the amount of the alleged fraud per case. But how high this percentage will be has not yet been determined.
The proposed law would make it easier to request bank account details from people whose cases have a “signal” of potential fraud.
Currently, the DWP can only request the data of an identifiable individual, but the law would expand those powers. Exact details were not available.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said the move would prevent the benefits system from being “a money-making machine for callous criminals”.
She added: “Thousands of trained specialists combined with targeted new tools and powers will mean we can keep up with fraud in today’s digital age, preventing, detecting and deterring those who would try to cheat the system. “
It came as MPs were blindly warned that mentally ill Britons will “fall off a cliff” when 2.6 million Britons are transferred to Universal Credit.
Those with six “old” benefits – most of them long-term sick or disabled – will transfer to Universal Credit between this summer and the end of 2024.
But charity bosses have expressed fears about a three-month window in which to make claims under the new system, after which their old benefits could be discontinued.
Tory ministers reassured MPs there will be an extension of at least an extra month if people don’t apply to UC, with the DWP contacting them directly.
But Dominic Milne, of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee that the deadline “appears to be a huge mistake.
“The extra month, yes, that might help, but it’s not enough. In that regard, there will still be people falling off cliffs.”
He added, “It seems like a very risky strategy to take so many people and basically risk a lot with their income.”
Sophie Corlett, of mental health charity Mind, said: “We know people are absolutely struggling with the process because it’s online, they may not be well enough to engage, they may not have the cognitive Ability to engage in specific circumstances.”
She warned that in a cost-of-living crisis, if money were cut off it would be “devastating”.
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/dwp-staff-power-arrest-brits-27002864 DWP staffers given powers to arrest Britons in crackdown on Universal Credit fraud