Well over 100,000 people have signed petitions objecting to legislation, currently in the House of Lords, which will allow the DWP to snoop on claimants’ bank accounts. In addition, the UK Information Commissioner has challenged the way the law has been drafted.
Benefits and Work readers who are unhappy at the plans may wish to sign one or more of the petitions. Especially as, the more smoothly these laws are passed, the more emboldened the DWP will be to move onto laws giving it powers of arrest, search and seizure and the right to impose massive fines without going anywhere near a court.
The petition on the Organise site headed “Prevent the DWP from scrutinising disabled people’s bank accounts” has attracted almost 80,000 signatures.
“Stop the Government from spying on all of our bank accounts” on the 38 Degrees site has over 33,000 signatures.
“Do not introduce regular bank account checks for benefit claimants” on the parliament website has just under 16,000 signatures so far.
John Edwards, the UK Information Commissioner at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has written to the Times suggesting that the current wording of the bill too loose. This will not prevent it passing into law, but it may give claimants some additional protections.
“Proposed powers to allow the government to inspect people’s bank accounts to reduce benefit fraud raise questions as to society’s appetite for potentially intrusive measures to reduce a problem that costs the country billions of pounds.
“As is so often the case, the answer lies in proportionality. The law must be sufficiently clear to give people an adequate indication of the conditions and circumstances in which the authorities can use such measures. And there must be safeguards to protect people.
“Key to assessing proportionality are questions such as ‘Will the proposed intervention work?’, ‘Will it produce high numbers of false positives?’ and ‘Are there more or equally effective mechanisms available that do not involve the same level of intrusion?’”
“As the data regulator, my office continues to work with the Department for Work and Pensions on this, in particular on whether the proposal is sufficiently tightly drafted.”
The DWP snuck in the new powers as amendments to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. There was no consultation, no opportunity for discussion and no chance to explore alternatives.
If they are successful in getting the current measures through with little opposition, it seems likely that the government will use the same tactics to allow the DWP to acquire the power to arrest claimants, search homes, seize property and impose huge fines without ever going to court.