The DWP is to get the power to arrest claimants, search premises and seize evidence as well as being able to fine claimants where they do not have enough evidence to bring a criminal case for fraud, the government has announced.
The new measures, many of which will not be possible to introduce without an Act of Parliament, are aimed primarily at cutting fraud in Universal credit (UC).
In total, the DWP are to spend £200 million a year on the new initiative, which will see 1,400 more staff in frontline counter-fraud teams plus a new 2,000 strong team solely for checking universal credit claims.
The sweeping new powers will mean that designated DWP staff will be able to arrest claimants, search premises and seize any evidence they find without needing to use the police. The DWP say this will put them on a par with HMRC and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
There will also be new powers for the DWP to force other organisations, especially banks, to provide data about claimants on a much wider scale than is currently legally allowed.
At the moment the DWP can only require organisations to give them information about named individuals where there is already a suspicion of fraud. The DWP want much broader powers to access information.
They say that a “small test” has been run with a bank to assess the potential of using a feed of banking data to identify possible fraud and error, “with very encouraging results”.
The DWP will be able to impose civil penalties on claimants based on a percentage of any overpayment, where the DWP does not have enough evidence to prosecute. This will be in addition to having to repay the whole amount of the benefit the DWP consider to have been fraudulently obtained.
The DWP already have the power to impose civil penalties, but they have to have evidence sufficient to meet the standard for criminal prosecution before they can do so. Under the new proposals, a lower level of evidence would be needed in order for the department to impose a penalty.
The DWP will also be able to impose penalties on organisations which the it considers are “promoting benefit fraud schemes online, creators and sellers of fraud toolkits on social media or someone supplying fake ID.”