People with Universal Credit could find their bank accounts and even their social media watch this Christmas if they are accused of fraud.
The threat is designed to keep benefit fraudsters at bay to ensure that money is distributed to those who really need it.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has reserved the right to monitor bank accounts and social media if necessary, the Express reports.
If the DWP suspects a fraudulent claim, investigators may collect different types of evidence.
This could be:
- audio recordings
- photos or videos
- bank statements and other financial information
- copies of correspondence
- inspector reports of surveillance activities
- interviews with a person or persons a claimant knows
- evidence submitted by anyone who has reported a suspected benefit fraud
Social media can also be used as a source of evidence, as they often provide a clearer picture of a person’s life and daily activities.
The DWP has the authority to collect specific information about claimants under the Social Administration Act.
It can share information with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – and vice versa – as needed.
Once officials have reached the stage where they access your information and it does not match the information in a benefit claim, there could be a serious problem.
Benefit fraud is defined as when “a person obtains a government benefit to which he is not entitled, or deliberately fails to report a change in his personal circumstances”.
This may include not reporting certain earnings to make it appear that someone is earning less, or faking an illness to receive benefits to which someone is not entitled.
Read more about benefit fraud about this special government webpage here.
If a person is suspected of benefit fraud, several steps are then taken.
Individuals are contacted by the DWP or the relevant authority. And note, benefits can be discontinued while investigations are taking place.
People can expect a letter informing them about this.
Claimants may receive visits from Fraud Investigation Officers (FIOs) or they may be asked to attend a ‘cautionary interview’ asking them to discuss their claim.
You can find more information from the government about FIOs here.
The interview with a FOI is a formal interview that can later become part of a criminal investigation against a person.
People in this situation should seek advice about their case from a lawyer, legal counsel or Citizen’s advice.
If someone is found to have committed or attempted to commit fraud, they may be asked to repay the money.
Alternatively, they can be taken to court or asked for a fine.
It may also reduce benefits or stop benefits for a period of time.
Universal credit is far from the only benefit that can be reduced or discontinued if someone commits benefits fraud.
How long a payment is suspended depends on how often someone has committed fraud.
To learn more about Universal Credit, visit the special government webpage here.