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Community Links blog

Fraud and error in the benefits system – where DWP are going wrong.

By Will Horwitz

Last week the Department for Work and Pensions released their annual figures (PDF) on fraud and error in the benefits system. It seems a good time to make exactly the same points we made last time this happened.

Firstly lumping together fraud and error is misleading and means everyone (including Teresa May, in the Telegraph article linked above) concentrates on the fraud and forget about the error.

Secondly underpayment of benefits (this year running at £1.2bn), is arguably an even bigger problem, because it leaves vulnerable people in a desperate situation, evicted or unable to buy food. They often end up seeking advice at Community Links, because the system has let them down so badly. And don’t forget this is just people claiming a particular benefit but getting less than they’re entitled to. It doesn’t include people who aren’t aware they’re entitled to a benefit at all.

Thirdly, ‘customer error’ is not the fault of the claimant. The report separates out intentional fraud (£1.1bn), unintentional ‘customer error’ (£1.1bn), and ‘official error’ (£0.8bn). Our experience at Community Links shows that claimants make errors because they are left to navigate a hugely complicated system with very little guidance, bombarded with unintelligible forms, and offered very little support. It’s a stressful experience, made worse when DWP tries to claw back money they’ve overpaid. The high level of customer error is an indictment of the DWP (if a business was losing £1bn a year because customers couldn’t work out how to use the payment system, they’d sort it out pretty quickly).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve shown before how much of the fraud in the benefit system is perpetrated out of need, not greed. Obviously there are those who are greedily playing the system, and they make for great newspaper headlines, but in our experience many people on benefits do a bit of work on the side because they need to. Reforming the benefits system so that people were able to do small amounts of work as a first step back towards the job market would lead to higher employment and fewer people working in the informal economy. Ultimately, less fraud and a smaller welfare budget.

Finally, whatever they do in response to these figures, anything would be better than this, but rather depressingly I saw some very similar adverts outside our office in Canning Town, just a couple of days ago (above, and to the right).

3 Responses to “Fraud and error in the benefits system – where DWP are going wrong.”

  1. BoB says:

    Thank you for this concise assessment of the situation, I’ll definitely be linking to this in a post soon.

    And thank you very much for your link, which I’ve just noticed. We’ve actually just changed the blog name and URL to “Benefits Culture” (thought it was more catchy).

  2. [...] fraud, housing | Leave a Comment  Community Links is an excellent resource and their post on Fraud and Error in the benefits system is brief but essential [...]

  3. [...] benefit fraud is not as big a problem as either party might have you believe. Less than 1 per cent of benefit claimants commit fraud [...]

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