The DWP have published the results of a survey on the public’s attitudes to a worrying list of new powers it is considering acquiring, allegedly in order to combat fraud, error and debt in the benefits system.
The proposed new powers include:
- Trained DWP investigators having arrest powers
- Trained DWP investigators having search and seizure powers
- Collecting information about where claimants are spending money
- Collecting banking information as soon as fraud is suspected, rather than waiting for a criminal investigation
- Asking banks to share information about accounts which look like someone may be committing fraud
- Government organisations sharing data with DWP about claimants
The DWP research claims to show that a majority of the public were in favour of every one of these measures being introduced.
Even amongst a group of claimants, the DWP claim, more people considered the powers acceptable than found them unacceptable, with the exception of collecting information about where claimants are spending money.
Given the levels of incompetence, data loss and unaccountability at the DWP, the possibility that staff could arrest claimants and seize their possessions is likely to alarm many readers.
Equally, the idea that the DWP could begin examining bank accounts and looking at how a claimant is spending their money merely because the they suspect fraud is a cause for real concern.
With the department increasingly relying on AI and algorithms they don’t fully understand to detect fraud, the possibility of claimants being wrongfully arrested and facing long and poorly resourced investigations seems real.
No legislation has yet been put forward by the DWP and many will hope that a general election intervenes and that these proposals never become anything more than the wish list of a failing department.
You can read the full details of the DWP consultation on possible new powers here.