Bailiffs given access to benefit claimants’ credit records
DWP gets new power as part of effort to make it easier to confiscate possessions from people who make fraudulent claims.
Bailiffs are to be given access to benefit claimants’ credit reference records in an effort to clamp down on bogus claims.
The move is aimed at making it easier to confiscate high-value possessions if claimants have failed to pay back fraudulently claimed benefits.
The latest sweeping power was given to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) late last year and follows the controversial decision to give HMRC access to all claimants’ credit reference records.
Until last year the DWP only had access to credit reference records on an ad hoc basis if there was reasonable suspicion of benefit fraud, but the DWP now has complete access to credit reference data.
No 10 predicted cars, luxury items and state-of-the-art TVs belonging to “those who have stolen money through dishonest claims” would be targeted.
It is estimated that £1.2bn was lost to benefit fraud last year and ministers are determined to do more to get that money back. Downing Street claims recent cases have found individuals claiming multiple benefits for years despite having full-time jobs, property portfolios and undeclared capital.
The new power means fraudulent claimants will see their benefits repaid through the sale of their assets.
Downing Street said the use of bailiffs would act as a strong deterrent and encourage more people to make arrangements to pay back what they owed without the knock on the door.
Benefits can be – and are already – docked to recover fraud debt.
This year has seen the launch of a publicity campaign to encourage more people to correct errors in their benefit claims early and to persuade members of the public to report suspected benefited cheats.
A No 10 spokesperson said: “Getting the welfare budget under control is a key part of our long-term plan for the economy. We want to end the something-for-nothing culture and deliver for people who want to work hard and play by the rules.”
In December 2011 the HMRC said it was to draw on the expertise of credit reference agencies to tackle fraud and error. The departments have signed a 12-month contract with Experian.