Public Perception of Benefit Fraud Looking Up: But what improvements are the Government making?


Benefit fraud has always been a controversial topic, but it’s gained considerably more traction and air-time in recent years, thanks to various television programmes and media stories that showcase the crooks in the system.

At Hylton-Potts, we’re aware that the vast majority of people accused of benefit fraud are not such extreme lawbreakers as portrayed. They’re honest, down-to-earth people that have made a mistake or been the victim of a serious error in the system. According to a recent study however, it appears that a higher percentage of the general public than ever before are starting to think the same way.

In today’s post, we’re going to tell you what the survey’s all about, how the public’s support for those claiming disability has grown, and what the government is doing to cut down on the real benefit cheats, while limiting the number of people who will be subject to error within the system in future.

What’s the story?

Last month, the results from a survey conducted by Britain’s largest social research organisation were published, and they’ve highlighted a distinct shift in the way the public view the allocation of taxes. The major point picked up by most news outlets was that Britain’s patience for austerity is wearing thin, as 83% supported increased spending on health, 71% wanted more money for education, and 57% desired extra police funding.

While these are clear indicators that the public has had enough of the cuts to its public services, interestingly, they even supported higher taxes, with those in favour rising to 48%. Along with this refreshing attitude, there was also a softened approach taken towards benefit claimants; the proportion of people who said that most unemployment claimants are “fiddling” their finances had dropped to just 22% – the lowest figure since the question was first asked in 1986. Delving deeper, just 21% said that most social security claimants don’t deserve help, down from 32% in 2014.

Clearly, there’s a marked then-and-now difference; it was only 2013 when Ipsos Mori published their findings which suggested that, while every £1.10 in every £100 of benefits was fraudulently claimed, the public believed it to be £24 out of every £100. While the real figure still equates to around £1.9billion, it’s nothing compared to the figure people thought to be accurate, given their perception at the time that a large percentage of claimants were cheating the system.

What’s the government doing?

While it’s excellent news that the general perception of benefits claimants is starting to improve, it’s still true that there are people out there trying to de-fraud the state. A recent example is 50-year-old Rhona Vessey, who told authorities she could barely walk and that she “could only walk 20 metres without getting out of breath”, yet was caught performing as a drummer in a marching band. Over just one year, she fraudulently claimed over £6,250 in disability benefits.

So, what is the government doing to prevent further cases like these from occurring? The first step is the roll-out of Universal Credits. Incredibly complex and making it impossible to accurately check someone’s current circumstances, the current tax credit system involves lots of different departments and labels, from Job Seeker’s Allowance to Housing Benefit, and is infamously plagued with error.

Universal Credit simplifies all such benefits into just one payment per month, meaning a shorter application process, the ability to check an individual’s eligibility for benefits immediately, and less money slipping through the cracks. It’s still too early to gather any in-depth figures on Universal Credits, but early indications are promising, as in 2013-14, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) recovered an extra £100million in fraud and error-related debt, compared to 2009-10.

There’s also a string of technological developments being integrated too, such as:

  • A “Real Time Information” verification system in conjunction with HMRC, allowing the DWP to check an applicant’s current income.
  • The National Fraud Initiative’s (NFI) AppCheck tool, allowing any department to verify an individual’s circumstances with over 1,300 other organisations including the DWP, the Home Office, local councils, police authorities and private companies, amounting to around a third of a billion records. This is thought to significantly reduce the likelihood of an applicant successfully making a fraudulent claim.
  • In 2016, the DWP began trialling blockchain, where claimants can receive their benefits via a downloadable app. Not only does it log every transaction made to help claimants to budget, but it means the DWP can even specify where claimants can spend their cash in the first place – a topic of much controversy.

Potential problems for adoption

Universal Credits appear to be an initial success, but time and reports will tell how true that is. It’s the technological progression in this area though which poses a number of issues. On the one hand, people with learning difficulties or those who are elderly may find it hard to understand such new concepts. They may never have even used a smartphone before, let alone own one, so this will be a challenge for a huge sector of the claimant population if there will be a “digital switchover”, so to speak.

On the other hand, security also becomes a risk. While having everything accessible and easy to use from an app improves functionality and can simplify the process for the tech-savvy, elderly or vulnerable people may leave themselves open to a different kind of fraudster when asking for help. Plus, there’s the prospect of hackers and other malware getting onto your device, putting your details and finances at risk.

The adoption of new ways of fighting benefit fraud may not be so easy on a national scale, but it’s always worth pushing forward and trying to find new methods of lowering risk and error within the system. We at Hylton-Potts know all too well just how frequently these issues crop up, and the distress they cause. If you’ve been wrongly accused of benefit fraud, or been informed you must attend an ‘Interview Under Caution’, get in touch with our team immediately. We’ll be able to walk you through the process, and ensure you’re never put in an upsetting situation. We’re always available to give you advice, and you can call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

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