DWP “lost control” over fraud and errors in benefit system during pandemic, MPs say

The level of fraud and error in the benefit system nearly doubled during the pandemic from what was already the highest rate since records began, according to a committee of MPs.

Benefit overpayments now stand at £ 8.3bn, or 7.5% of the overall DWP (non-state pension) benefit expenditure of £ 111.4bn.

Fraud and errors were increasing year on year before COVID-19, but the ministry’s response to the pandemic opened up new weaknesses in its systems, which the Committee says “both organized criminals and dishonest opportunistic individuals have used. to steal the taxpayer ”, of which billions of money“ is almost certainly lost ”.

At the start of the pandemic, the DWP introduced a number of ‘easements’ – relaxing or adapting the usual fraud and error controls – to enable it to handle an unprecedented number of claims, alongside the implementation of measures. public health. The DWP warned the Committee in evidence in September 2020 that responding to the surge in demand for benefits during the pandemic would increase fraud and errors, but the Committee today states that the amount of taxpayer money lost is ” simply unacceptable ”.

DWP invested in data and intelligence systems and in 3,000 new employees, to – among other tasks – begin to tackle years of payment errors that had been discovered even before the pandemic began. But the PAC “remains skeptical as to whether its approach will result in a real and lasting reduction in the levels of fraud and error”, and DWP admitted into evidence that it would not be able to demonstrate such improvements in 2021- 2022.

Dame Meg Hillier, MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“Erroneous overpayments now represent 7.5% of DWP’s benefit expenses. Add to this the enormous task of correcting years of underpayment the state pension, and the resources of the ministry are stretched. It is a real waking nightmare for the large number of people affected, from the most vulnerable in our society to families who work full time and still struggle daily to make ends meet. The department does not appear equipped to properly administer our labyrinthine benefit system or to detect and correct years of errors in too many of our basic social rights, long before its current woes.

This situation is untenable and taxpayers – who also include benefit claimants – lose billions because of it. There has to be a drastic shift in understanding the impact of benefit errors on people’s lives and restoring confidence, because as we have seen recently with pension underpayments, once we have seen an error in the system materializes, it may take years to resolve.

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