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  1. ITV Report

Department for Work and Pensions admit using fake benefit claimants in advice leaflet

Video report by ITV News' Lewis Vaughan Jones

Government officials have admitted making up comments from fictional benefits claimants in an online advice leaflet.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) used two pictures of two individuals, 'Zac' and 'Sarah', next to what was said to be their positive accounts of the benefits sanctions regime.

However, the DWP was forced to delete the quotes when a freedom of information request from Welfare Weekly revealed that neither person actually exists and the images were stock photographs.

The DWP has now changed the images in the leaflet Credit: DWP

A DWP spokesman told ITV News he believed the incident was a one-off and the leaflet had now been taken down from the website.

The case studies were used for illustrative purposes to help people understand how the benefit system works

They’re based on conversations our staff have had with claimants.

They have now been removed to avoid confusion.

– DWP spokesman

In the leaflet, 'Sarah' was quoted as expressing delight at having been persuaded to draw up a CV and explaining why she had had her payments docked.

"My benefit is back to normal now and I'm really pleased with how my CV looks. It's going to help me when I'm ready to go back to work," the copy said.

'Zac' apparently told readers that he had not missed out on any benefits because: "I had a good reason for not going to the meeting and proof of the appointment".

Credit: DWP
Credit: DWP

The hashtag #FakeDWPStories soon began to trend on Twitter, with thousands taking delight in poking fun at the gaffe.

Learning disability charity Mencap accused the Department of "unacceptable" behaviour.

"DWP's made-up case studies present an unrepresentative view of the sanctions regime and its impact on disabled people," Head of policy Dan Scorer said.

Stephen Timms, Labour's Acting Shadow work and Pensions Secretary was just as scathing about the affair.

You couldn’t make it up – but it seems Iain Duncan Smith can.

The only way he can find backers for his sanctions regime is by inventing them.

Instead of fabricating quotes pretending the system is working, he should scrap unfair sanctions targets for job centre staff and do more to protect vulnerable people from facing benefit sanctions.

– Stephen Timms
The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) office in London. Credit: PA Wire

Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham said: "The DWP has been caught red-handed. Iain Duncan Smith must come clean on any knowledge of these fakes.

"It is further evidence of a shambolic Tory benefits policy. David Cameron is hell-bent on hurting the most vulnerable ... and under my leadership, Labour will oppose his Welfare Bill."