16 September 2008
The Department for Work and Pensions has denied any link to a benefits calculation website after our investigation revealed the possible involvement of one of its senior officials.
Benefitsupermarket.com has now been taken down after we started our enquiries into the website and the possible involvement of Roger Westerbeek, who was listed on a business networking site as Head of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) for the Pensions Service and Head of Insight at the DWP, based in Warrington.
Mr Westerbeek was recently one of the DWP speakers at a conference looking at how to use statistical analysis to predict the behaviour of customers in order to ‘target vulnerable citizens’ and ‘prevent fraud’.
The benefits calculation website is registered to Sally Westerbeek and a residential address in Warrington, although Roger Westerbeek’s personal email is the point of contact.
A spokesperson for the DWP told us: “I can confirm that the DWP has absolutely no involvement with benefitsupermarket.com and it is not a government sanctioned website.”
When we attempted to contact the Westerbeeks direct, we received no response. When we emailed asking about Mr Westerbeek’s involvement in benefitsupermarket.com and his role at the DWP we received no response and within 24 hours the website had been removed.
We therefore contacted the DWP seeking clarification on its role and the possible involvement of one of its senior officials.
We submitted a list of subsequent questions seeking further clarification about Mr Westerbeek’s position with the DWP and his links with the website.
The DWP was asked if Mr Westerbeek is actually behind benefitsupermarket.com. If so, what is the principle purpose of the site and Mr Westerbeek’s own reason for being involved?
We were concerned to know what has happened to the data that the site has collected and why Mr Westerbeek did not make clear his connection with the DWP.
We were also anxious to learn whether the DWP was aware of Mr Westerbeek’s activities and if the department had been passed any of the data collected by benefitsupermarket.com.
We began our investigation after concerns are raised on our own forum and two other sites about www.benefitsupermarket.com.
The site claimed to offer a “unique approach to understanding your entitlement to benefit”. It collected financial data from people and promised to quickly and accurately discover what you are entitled to receive.
From our own research and the experience of forum members on various sites, however, benefitsupermarket.com consistently provided inaccurate, partial and out-of-date information. We also found it had lifted material from other sites.
Benefitsupermarket.com said all information was provided anonymously. Although it did not ask for name or full address, it did require postcodes along with other information, such as the number of children and their ages could.
In theory this could provide a jigsaw identification of a specific household. It also collects sensitive personal information about vulnerable adults and elderly people, including problems with such things as mobility and getting out of bed.
The website gave no details about who runs it. Benefitsupermarket.com does claim to be independent of any government agency or department.
(By the time the newsletter was published we were still awaiting a detailed response. We will update you on this investigation in the next issue.)