DWP releases estimated figures on benefit fraud and claimant / official error

19 November 2014

Latest figures from the DWP estimate that from 2013 – 2014 £3.5bn in benefits were overpaid whilst £1.5bn were underpaid, due to claimant or official error. Of the amount overpaid a higher proportion of £2.2bn is due to claimant or official error whilst £1.2bn is the result of fraud.

A separate report for the Guardian reveals that the DWP are currently investing £308m on new initiatives to tackle fraud up to March 2015, and £1m on an advertising campaign to raise awareness about benefit fraud. The article questions whether this is ‘money well spent?’, drawing attention to the higher rate of underpayments due to error than overpayments caused by fraud.

In the DWP’s official estimations the highest proportions of overpayments were 6 per cent of overall housing benefit expenditure and 5.9 per cent of Pension Credit expenditure. A breakdown of Employment Support Allowance showed that a higher proportion (1 per cent) of overpayments were due to official error than claimant error (0.7 per cent). The error overpayments also outweighed those which were the result of fraud, raising questions about why DWP and Jobcentre staff commit errors which result in both underpayment and overpayment.

Katherine Sacks-Jones, Spokeswoman for the Who Benefits? Campaign expresses that the public debate places an overemphasis on instances of fraud which has the result of demonising claimants. She states that: ‘Clearly fraud needs to be dealt with, but our fixation on it distracts from a much bigger picture: that the vast majority of benefits go to ordinary people who genuinely need the support. These are people who may be seriously ill or disabled, caring for a loved one, unable to find work or struggling to get by on low pay. For many of them benefits are a lifeline.’ Her article can be read in full on the Guardian website.

Recent research from Who Benefits? Shows that 15 per cent of those receiving benefits have experienced verbal abuse as a result, and 4 per cent have been targeted with physical abuse. 16 per cent of claimants report difficulty finding a home and 18 per cent report being treated less favourably by a potential employer.