Universal credit: Around 1 million cases checked for fraud as benefit overpayments hit record high


About a million universal credit claims are being re-examined for fraud after benefit overpayments nearly doubled during the pandemic.

Fraud and errors in the benefit system reached an all-time high in the past fiscal year as normal checks were suspended to cope with a massive influx of new claimants.

According to official figures released Thursday, around £ 8.4bn has been overpaid, including around £ 6bn to universal credit.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) insisted that the levels of fraud and error remained low, with 95% of claims being resolved properly.

As the coronavirus hit the UK last spring, soaring demand for universal credit led the government to relax some checking rules. For example, the cost of a plaintiff’s rent has been accepted in trust.

The DWP said it has taken note of the allegations deemed suspicious, about one in six, and is now looking at them.

Neil Couling, who is in charge of the program, said some applicants are likely to be “slapped on the shoulder”.

The amount spent on universal credit more than doubled to £ 38.2 billion last year after the DWP faced 3 million more claims when Covid struck. Universal credit now accounts for 18 percent of total benefit spending, up from around 10 percent in the previous fiscal year.

Just over half of the total overpayments in the benefit system last year were for universal credit. Of the estimated total of £ 8.4bn, the DWP was able to recover £ 800m. This brought the net loss of overpayments to £ 7.6 billion, or 3.6% of spending.

The DWP also released figures showing underpayments amounting to £ 2.5 billion, or 1.2 percent of total spending.

The department also claimed to have prevented £ 1.7bn from being caught in a ‘targeted attack’ on the benefits system by organized criminals.

A DWP spokesperson said: “After an unprecedented year in which the number of Universal Credit applicants doubled due to the pandemic, fraud and errors in the benefit system remain low, 95% of benefits worth over £ 200 billion being paid for properly.

“We take any abuse of taxpayer money very seriously and those who claim benefits to which they are not entitled will face criminal prosecution.

“We also have strong plans in place to recover fraudulent claims and reduce fraud and errors to the lowest possible level.”


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