21 May 2020
Benefit officials have told the BBC they fear that as much as £1.5bn may have been lost in fraudulent claims for Universal Credit in recent weeks.
Huge demand for the benefit has seen some processes relaxed to ensure the majority of claims are paid quickly.
But officials believe that some organised crime groups – as well as individuals – may have taken advantage of the system.
The DWP said it monitors benefit fraud “very closely”.
More than 1.5 million people applied for Universal Credit over the course of one four week period up to 9 April.
Over that period, applications were running at six times normal levels.
To process the claims quickly, and make sure people received help, a number of processes were relaxed.
Identity checks were processed online, rather than face-to-face, and some information was taken on trust, such as the cost of rent and whether someone had been self-employed.
While officials are keen to emphasise that the vast majority of claims came from genuine applicants, especially in the initial surge, they fear the looser checks have opened the door to individuals and some organised crime groups exploiting the system.
The government is aware of the concerns and is investigating the extent of the problem, but the BBC has been told that initial calculations indicate that as much as £1.5bn has been wrongly been paid out.
While fraud investigators will attempt to recoup all the money, one official said the concern was the hundreds of millions of pounds that had been paid out as advance payments, sometimes on the day, and that it would be far harder to get that money back as the recipients often couldn’t be traced.
Read more at BBC News
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