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The £8bn benefits blundesr: Overpayments mostly due to fraud

The £8bn benefits blunders: Overpayments to claimants double in a year… and it’s mostly due to fraud during Covid pandemic

  • Ministers have ‘lost grip’ of the benefits system, parliamentarians said last night
  • Billions of pounds were lost to fraud after Covid led to a relaxation of the rules
  • A huge £8.3billion was overpaid to claimants last year, the majority fraudulent

Ministers have ‘lost grip’ of the benefits system, MPs said last night after it emerged that billions of pounds had been lost to fraud following the relaxation of rules because of Covid-19.

A staggering £8.3billion was overpaid to claimants last year, with the overwhelming majority of this down to fraud rather than error.

It meant an astounding 7.5 per cent of Britain’s welfare budget was overpaid as a result of fraud or error – almost double the level the previous year.

The huge increase is mainly because of a doubling of the number of people on Universal Credit as a result of the pandemic, a report by the Commons public accounts committee said.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) brought in certain ‘easements’ – relaxing or adapting usual fraud and error controls – to enable it to manage unprecedented numbers of new claims during the Covid crisis.

Billions of pounds were lost to fraud after the Covid pandemic led to a relaxation of the rules

The MPs said it opened the door to ‘organised criminals and dishonest opportunistic individuals’ to ‘steal from the taxpayer’. And they criticised the DWP for having no plan to recover most of the money – meaning ‘billions of taxpayers’ money is almost certainly lost’ – an amount which is ‘simply unacceptable’.

Worryingly, the DWP said the amount lost to fraud and error would be the same in the current financial year.

The report said: ‘The department has lost a grip of Universal Credit overpayments, which account for most of the £3.8billion increase in fraud and error and are now at the highest overpayment rate of any benefit.’

Dame Meg Hillier, the committee’s chairman, said: ‘This is a real-life waking nightmare for the huge numbers of people affected, from the most vulnerable in our society to the full-time working families who still struggle daily to make ends meet.

‘The department appears unequipped either to properly administer our labyrinthine benefits system or detect and correct years of mistakes across too many of our state welfare entitlements, far pre-dating its current woes.

‘This situation is untenable and taxpayers – who also include benefit claimants – are losing billions because of it. There needs to be a step change in understanding the impact of benefit errors on people’s lives and restoring trust.’

The committee found that the level of fraud and error in the benefits system almost doubled during the pandemic from what was already the highest rate since records began.

Overpayments of benefits now stand at £8.3billion, 7.5 per cent of the DWP’s overall benefit expenditure (excluding state pension) of £111.4billion.

Ministers have ‘lost grip’ of the benefits system, parliamentarians said last night after it was revealed £8.3billion was overpaid to claimants last year, the majority fraudulently

Fraud and error were rising year-on-year before Covid-19 but the department’s response to the pandemic opened up new weaknesses in its systems.

Ministers have pledged to employ 3,000 new staff to tackle years of payment errors that had been uncovered even before the pandemic began.

But the committee said it ‘remains sceptical about whether its approach will result in a ‘real and sustained reduction in the levels of fraud and error’, and the DWP admitted in evidence that it will be unable to demonstrate any such improvements in 2021/22. 

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