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Benefits overpayments rise - rightsnet story on fraud and error

 

Robbie Spence
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Welfare Benefits Caseworker, Mary Ward Legal Centre

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http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/welfare-rights/news/item/benefits-overpayments-rise-to-3.5-billion-equivalent-to-2-per-cent-of-the-1

As usual, DWP lump fraud and error into one category. I think it’s important to separate them and so here is the breakdown from ‘Main Messages’ on p3: 
total overpayments 2.0% - £3.5bn
fraud overpayments 1.2%
claimant error overpayments 0.5%
official error 0.4%
underpayments 0.9% - £1.6bn

I was surprised to see this because, in the past, fraud has often been less than error and also less than underclaims. The report doesn’t say why. (It says “Failure to declare earnings and employment continues to be the main cause of fraud and claimant error overpayments.”)

Also, there is bad news re Universal Credit (page 8 and 9), where “overpayments have increased mainly due to a rise in official error” and, while UC underpayments are not as bad as before, they are still twice as bad as JSA: 1.2% for UC compared to 0.6% for JSA.

     
Mike Hughes
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Senior Welfare Rights Officer (Take-Up), Salford WRS.

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Financial competence has not historically been one of the DWPs strengths.

http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2015/07/dwp-201415-accounts-qualified

     
Wensleyfoss
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Welfare Rights Advisor, Autism Anglia

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We have a client coming in today and I’d like some advice please? Two years ago he was due to receive a compliance meeting, in relation to ESA he declined and went to America. He stayed in USA for two years and has now returned. While in America he carried on claiming DLA. He said, he knew he was supposed to tell DWP, but “he wouldn’t have had anything to live on.”
He has high functioning autism and no learning dis.
I have found a court case report, regarding Tilly and the subsequent findings by a judge towards a third party, aware of the fraud.
I have suggested to my colleague that we see him today, but make it clear we can not help him, unless he speaks to the DWP.
Where does that leave our organisation? I’m tempted to write him a letter, to protect our charity.

     
Mike Hughes
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Senior Welfare Rights Officer (Take-Up), Salford WRS.

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Broad line - we would ask the client to disclose or assist them to do so if requested. If there’s no evidence of a disclosure within a reasonable time (say 2 to 4 weeks) then the case is not taken on. Once it has been disclosed then it’s no different to any other alleged overpayment/fraud case.

A word of caution though. I would be wary of such statements from a claimant. They’re too easy to take at face value. It can lead one to an all too easy conclusion that there has been a recoverable overpayment and an apparent fraud. That’s often not the case at all. Underpinning the clients answer may have been advice from specific persons (DWP or others) which may have led them to believe it was not an issue. Over the years I’ve had a couple which sound exactly like this. It turned out they had sought advice from DWP at an early stage (and in one case even had it in writing) and it had effectively fixed them with a mistaken belief, reasonably held in all the circumstances. The presenting facts were nothing like once I dug underneath. Especially relevant with high functioning autism where black and white answers can hide a whole world of other things happening.