Universal Credit fraud rose from 9.4% to 25.6% during Covid pandemic, government admits

Credit: PA

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that after the Covid pandemic hit the level of fraud and error in Universal Credit claims rose from 9.4% to 25.6%.

There was a huge rise in claims as people's livelihoods were hit hard by the pandemic -  and the vast majority were genuine - but the increase in fraudulent claims is huge.

DWP say £3.1 billion was overpaid and they admit that a significant chunk was driven by organised criminals.

In the answer, welfare minister David Rutley wrote: "It is regrettable that people may have sought to exploit the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic for gain by not reporting changes in circumstances or even making false claims.

"This is particularly true for bogus claims orchestrated by organised criminals.

"During the pandemic, we were able to detect and shut down systematic attacks on the benefit system, including preventing £1.9bn from an attack from Organised Criminals in May 2020."

The department said 2.4 million new Universal Credit claims were made between 1 March and 26 May 2020 and more than 500,000 new claims were made in the first two weeks of the first lockdown.

The revelation came in response to a question submitted by Conservative MP Dr Ben Spencer.

Dr Spencer said: "I’m shocked and quite frankly angry that during the pandemic 1 in 4 new claims for Universal Credit were fraudulent or made in error, costing the taxpayer £3.1 billion, money meant for those in our society in difficulty and who needed it most.

"While so many were struggling or helping to support their communities it is despicable that some were seeking to exploit this for personal gain."

A DWP spokesperson said they had boosted efforts to tackle fraud.

"During the pandemic we saw unprecedented demand, with the number of Universal Credit claimants doubling in the first three months," they said.

"Our priority rightly was to ensure money reached those most in need as quickly as possible by making temporary changes."

Those changes eased access to the benefit - by cancelling - for example - face to face checks. 

The spokesperson added: “Our approach to preventing fraud has been vigilant throughout; this includes stopping £1.9 billion being lost to scammers in one organised attack.

"Going further, we are now investing £1.4 billion to tackle fraud, which will enable us to review all suspicious Universal Credit claims and recruit 2,000 new trained specialists to stop scammers.

"Anyone found to have committed fraud will have to return what they stole and face criminal prosecution.”