Please be aware: this article deals with the DWP seeking new powers which some claimants may find distressing to contemplate. 

As the DWP steers a bill to give it access to 9 million claimants’ bank accounts through parliament, it is already pushing for additional powers of arrest, search and seizure.  In effect, the DWP is aiming to have its own anti-fraud police force and to be able to impose huge fines without going to court.  But should such plans go ahead?

Lessons from recent history
The current Post Office scandal is clear evidence of what happens when such powers are misused and there are some worrying parallels between the behaviour of the Post Office and the DWP, as we noted earlier this month in Post Office Horizon software originally aimed at claimants

And there is no doubt that the DWP are serious about getting these powers. 

In a May 2022 report entitled ‘Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System’ the DWP said that “we plan to create new powers so our officers will be able to undertake arrests and apply to search and seize evidence in criminal investigations, when parliamentary time allows. This will enable them to act in a timely fashion, without always having to rely on police resources.”

And last year we reported on a survey which the DWP claimed proved that the majority of the public want them to have such powers.

The DWP say that these powers will be used against “serious and organised fraud”, but how long would it take them to decide that allegedly fraudulent PIP, ESA or UC claims by individuals constitute “serious” fraud?

It is important to note that in the same May 2022 report the DWP used exactly the same phrase “when parliamentary time allows” in relation to creating legislation that would force third parties, including banks, to hand over data to them. 

The following year those provisions were slipped into a bill going through parliament and they are now at committee stage in the House of Lords. There appears to be no serious attempt to prevent them going through.

 So a DWP police force is a genuine possibility and the same technique of adding the provisions to an existing bill in order to allow it may be used again.

Huge fines
The same document also explains that the DWP want powers that allow them to introduce a new type of “civil penalty”, whereby they can impose very large fines on claimants they suspect of fraud, without needing to meet the burden of proof required in criminal courts or even to actually take the claimant to court. 

The fine will be based on a percentage of the amount the DWP believe, but cannot necessarily prove beyond reasonable doubt, the claimant has been overpaid.  It will be in addition to the claimant having to repay all of the alleged overpayment.

Your experiences
When concrete plans to introduce such powers are produced, it’s vital that claimants and the bodies that represent them are not caught unprepared and without evidence about what the results might be.

Crucially, we need to know whether the DWP is open, transparent, subject to effective scrutiny and has an ethos of abiding by the rules and regulations that govern its conduct

So, we’d like to know if you have always been treated fairly by the DWP or if you have you been left feeling helpless in the face of an organisation that makes rules, but doesn’t necessarily follow them itself?

For example:

  • Have you tried to report a change of circumstances by phone and been unable to get through?
  • Have you reported a change of circumstances in writing and received no acknowledgement?
  • Have you sent the DWP documents by recorded delivery, but they have denied receiving them?
  • Have you been threatened with legal action if you didn’t repay money without it ever being proved that you owed it?
  • Have you been told you must withdraw a claim for a benefit immediately or face prosecution for fraud, even though you know you have done nothing wrong?
  • Have you been interviewed under caution without being able to have anyone with you?
  • Have you been offered a deal by the DWP whereby you have to agree immediately to accept an award of a disability benefit that is lower than you think you should get or have the offer withdrawn and have to go to appeal instead?
  • Have you been treated in any other way that suggests the DWP cannot be counted on to follow rules and regulations and treat claimants fairly?

Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below, or use our feedback form if you prefer.  We may publish your feedback, but we will not identify you in any way.

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  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    val · 2 months ago
    and who polices the DWP ? from 2019 to april 2022 i was awarded the lower rate care reduced from higher previously i challenged it and lost they sent me a letter saying we can still award you the higher rate care ? but i only scored 8 points and they only paid me lower rate i have the bank statements so which one did they get wrong i had an oral appeal because of covid and they upheld the DWP decision but then the DWP send me another letter saying they can still award me high rate care ?? but still 8 points and only low rate care went into my bank and i scored 0 on 9a b c even though i  have support care /treatment etc any help would be grateful 
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    Neil David · 3 months ago
    The fundamental problem with these proposals is not down to the level of incompetence the DWP staff and management regularly display, the ruthless lack of empathy, or even that it's all done to keep bitter Tory voters onside. No, the real issue is that all of these powers overturns a basic legal assumption inherent in UK law, that someone is innocent until proven guilty. Giving these draconian powers to an entity that would ultimately be unanswerable to the courts, sets a very dangerous precedent. What's ironic, is that the very people this sort of rabble rousing policy is aimed at, right wing boomers, will themselves be coming under these powers of investigation. Are these people so dim they can't see where that leads? To the Tory press and right wing govts pontificating about whether tax payers should be funding pensioners trips to the pub? Or on holiday? Or 'wasting money on junk food'? They might scoff, but once upon a time, a time not very long ago, people with disabilities weren't demonized, and their lifestyle under scrutiny the way they are today. Modern right wing govts are wedded to.penny pinching on the one hand, while allowing the rich to contribute as little as possible on the other. If pensioners believe the DWP will stop at attacking the poorest off and disabled, they'd better start thinking again. These new powers need challenging in court the minute they are used as an illegal over reach that overrides a basic premise - that people should not be criminalised simply for claiming benefits
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    Gary · 4 months ago
    While the majority of staff who work for the DWP are decent people just trying to do a difficult job in a truly horrific regime, it will always be a place where the bullies of society will find a niche. They take the job and suddenly find that they have a little bit of power. Power over vulnerable people that they are only too happy to exploit. It's probably the first time in their lives that they have ever been anywhere near authority. They know that they have a constant stream of "soft" targets. They know that they can bully people, knowing that security are there to back up their vile behaviour if someone does get pushed too far. We have all heard the stories and some of us have experienced these people first hand. To give these people even more power over the poorest, most vulnerable in our society is sick. It is something no empathetic human being would ever consider inflicting on those with the least, but since when have any of our MP's shown empathy, care or compassion for us? It's all about making headlines,  making "examples" of people who in 99% of cases have done, or would ever consider doing anything wrong. So who is abusing the system, the claimant or the real bullies that work for the system? Sadly, it's often the very worst of them that rise to the top, not through skill or ability but because their vile behaviour has produced the "result" their employer demands. Denying people money that they are entitled to on the most feeble of excuses. I have met more decent people than idiots, but when I have met one, they really do enjoy their little bit of daily sadism. They probably go home and show off to family and friends about the way they treat the "lazy" "scroungers". Their families and friends will know, in their hearts, that if these people weren't in a position of authority, they would run away at the first sign of trouble. It is the story from the playground to the workplace. To give them more authority with no more training than to "save" money, is a terrifying prospect. 
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    Val C · 4 months ago
    I am already an appointee for my son. I accompany him to all appointments , etc and have had a DWP assessor state he needs appointee ship and yet the PIP appeal has now gone to tribunal  with the DWP stating he can communicate well, understand complex and simple written words and manage his own finances do not cognitively impaired. States he went to mainstream school and also learnt to drive. Apart from being derrogatory this is also so misunderstood about his neurodiverse diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The letters from DWP alone are awful all we want is for him
    To be recognised as needing help communicate, understand communications and be supported.
    If this goes ahead i beggar belief of what they will do ! 
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    Tracey Sugg · 4 months ago
    Years ago I was told I was obviously fraudulent when I got tge numbers on two forms confused: I have brain injuries and my family usually did the paperwork. I now have an appointee. A relative died by suicide during a DWP review even though he was severely mentally ill
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    Trevor · 4 months ago
    Hello everyone 
    I do agree that every disabled person have different needs and limits. But, being spied on is an insult to our personal lives and family lives.  We don't need to have a DWP Spy club.
    If they were good at what they do I would understand that some checks should be made to keep things honest.
    CAPITA screwed up my life by telling lies over and over just so they didn't have to admit they were wrong in the first place..   God help us if they were the government spies!!!
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