Benefits and Work’s latest newsletter contains some information which might prove comforting to the many disabled people who are worrying about the Government’s recent announcement that they will start using credit reference agencies to track down benefit fraud.
The announcement was reported by the media using scaremongering tactics, which have only heightened stress levels among genuine claimants, who form the vast majority. The term that stuck most in many minds was ‘living lifestyles that are inconsistent with those claiming incapacity benefit”. Coupled with threats to examine private household spending, including on gardening, holidays and tv subscriptions, many claimants have been left feeling that the few pleasures they get in life, or essential respite breaks, will cause them to be highlighted as suspicious and come under DWP investigation.
Benefits and Work have been examining the media reports and have highlighted the following points:
- “using the private sector to hunt down fraudulent claims was introduced last year by New Labour – it’s not new at all;
- the idea of targeting incapacity benefit claimants specifically came not from the coalition but from the private sector and was simply latched onto by Cameron;
- there is only one very specific type of fraud that ‘bounty hunters’ are even moderately successful at uncovering – it’s got nothing to do with TVs, gardening or DIY and even then the success rate is only 1 out of every 25 investigations launched;
- there are several other indicators of fraud that can be detected by ‘bounty hunters’, but most are irrelevant when it comes to non means-tested benefits such as incapacity benefit and DLA.”
They go on to discuss the trial carried out by Labour in 2009, in partnership with local councils.
“In total, 2021 cases were investigated in the pilot, resulting in just 80 sanctions and prosecutions. It isn’t clear whether the cases to be investigated were chosen at random or were ones that were selected because they met certain criteria. But in any case, just 4% of all cases investigated resulted in any formal action against claimants.”
Out of these 80 sanctions, 77 were for Living Together fraud, where a claimant is living with someone, when they have stated they live alone. Benefits and Work believe that this is the main type of fraud that Experian will be able to pick up, using basic details they already hold, such as name and address.
Credit reference agencies do not have access to the details of your credit card or bank statements. I checked this out myself through my bank, who stated that they only share details such as balance, overdraft limit, missed payments, but not details of individual transactions. They do not know what you spend your money on. Additionally, DLA claimants should have little to fear, as DLA is not related to income or employment status, so Experian will be unable to determine fraud by looking at your bank balance.
Benefits and Work believe that when Iain Duncan Smith reports his plans for fraud reduction to the prime minister in the autumn, they will be focussed on credit checks on new claimants, and people suspected of living with someone when they have stated they live alone.
What this has illustrated is the ongoing media obsession with scapegoating benefits claimants, portraying them as fraudsters or layabouts. This media campaign, supported by the Government, is leading to stress levels rising among the disabled, decreased mental health, and sleepless nights. We have become increasingly afraid of allowing ourselves any comforts, in case this illustrates either our fitness for work, or our squandering of taxpayers money. But we shouldn’t be. Most of us live difficult lives. We are in receipt of those benefits or allowances for a very good reason, and we cannot let the Government and media decrease the quality of our lives any further.