Government ‘witch hunts’ to seek out benefit fraudsters


As many of our clients are only too painfully aware, the Department of Work and Pensions is not backwards in coming forwards if it has the slightest suspicion that something is amiss with a benefit claim. Yet the latest statistics to be revealed under a Freedom of Information Act request will leave even the most cynical lost for words.

According to information received by The Independent, more than 280,000 of the 332,000 cases it examined were ultimately closed for lack of evidence. That equates to almost 90 percent, and has led to claims from opposition MPs that the DWP is conducting nothing less than a witch hunt.

Shop a neighbour

The crux of the controversy surrounds the well publicised campaign by the DWP encouraging people to come forward and report anyone believed to be committing benefit fraud. We all saw the posters, and while it sounds reasonable enough in theory, it is evident that it is fundamentally flawed in practice.

Neil Gray is the SNP MP for Airdrie & Shotts. He described the campaign as: “another example of the Tories dividing communities, as neighbours become suspicious of each other,” although in this case, it is only fair to point out that the reporting service was launched under the previous Labour government.

The hotline invites anyone with concerns, either real or imagined, to report anonymously, and allows them to identify their suspects by race, physical appearance, build and even tattoos or scars.

Perhaps the most shocking thing is that it has taken four years for these statistics to be publicly revealed. It defies belief that the DWP has continued conducting one investigation after another, putting innocent people through stress and inconvenience, in the knowledge that nine times out of ten they will find nothing to support the allegation.

DWP response

So how did the DWP respond to these figures and the witch hunt allegations? Exactly in the way you would expect. A spokesman said that those who commit benefit fraud are diverting financial support from people who need it most. With this we can all agree. However, he then went on to say: “Calls to the fraud hotline are vital in tackling this crime – and information from the public helped us detect more than £45 million in benefit fraud in 2016 alone.”

What he failed to address was the cost of investigating almost ten times as many cases that went nowhere – both in terms of money spent by the DWP and the emotional cost to those who were falsely accused.

He also neatly sidestepped the £1.7 billion in benefits that the DWP did not pay to people who were entitled to them over the same year, often as a result of internal errors. Just think about those numbers – £45 million lost to fraud, and more than 30 times that amount lost due to DWP errors.

It begs the question of where their priorities should really lie.

Have you been affected?

If you are under investigation by the DWP, it probably comes as scant consolation to know that you are not alone. But at least help is at hand. Whether you have received a letter suggesting allegations of wrongdoing, you have been asked to attend an interview or you have any other related concern, do get in touch with us.

The sooner we are able to assess your individual circumstances, the better and quicker we can help you resolve the situation as painlessly as possible. You can give us a call on 020 7381 8111, or get in touch via email at law@hylton-potts.com.

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