Universal Credit warning issued as benefit over payments hit £8.4billion – your rights explained

THOUSANDS of benefit claimants could have money clawed back and face fines after the government found levels of Universal Credit fraud have reached record levels.

The department for work and pensions (DWP) estimates that £8.4 billion of benefits were overpaid in the financial year to the end of March 2021, with much of it coming from fraud.

It estimates that 3.9% of benefits spending was overpaid during the 2020/2021 financial year – the highest rate on record and up from 2.4% previously.

Some £6.3 billion of the overpayments are believed to be due to fraud, primarily arising from Universal Credit (UC) claims.

The figures also showed an estimated £2.5 billion in underpayments – 1.2% of the total and also the highest rate recorded.

The DWP said levels of fraud and error remain low, with 95% of benefits paid correctly.

Your rights if your benefits are overpaid

BENEFIT fraud is committed if you provide false information of don’t report a change in your circumstances.

You may be visited by a department for work and pensions official or asked to attend an interview if fraud is suspected plus any benefits may be suspended during the investigation.

If you are found to have committed benefit fraud, you will need to pay back the overpaid money and could be fined between £350 and £5,000.

Your benefits may also be reduced or stopped.

Overpayments aren’t always fraudulent and could be down to a mistake either by you or the DWP.

In this case you would just need to give the money back or it may be taken from future payments.

The DWP can still charge a £50 civil penalty if it thinks you have been negligent or aren’t cooperating.

You can appeal a decision within one month by asking for a mandatory reconsideration.

If your appeal is rejected you can take the DWP to an independent tribunal within one month.

The DWP will then have 28 days to respond and explain its reasoning for the tribunal to consider.

Around 4,000 benefit claims during the pandemic over the past year were analysed by the DWP and categorised as fraud, claimant error or official error.

The rate of fraud overpayments was 3% and the rates for official or claimant error were 0.4% and 0.6% respectively.

A DWP spokesman said: "Following an unprecedented year in which the number of Universal Credit claimants doubled as a result of the pandemic, fraud and error in the benefits system remains low with 95% of benefits worth more than £200 billion paid correctly.

"We take any abuse of taxpayers' money very seriously and those who claim benefits they are not entitled to will face criminal prosecution.

"We also have robust plans in place to recover fraudulent claims and drive fraud and error down to the lowest feasible level."

We explain five other Universal Credit and benefit changes that were announced with the start to the new tax year.

Budding entrepreneurs on Universal Credit can get £1,274 to start their own business.

Meanwhile, Brits on Universal Credit can now get paid for up to 16 weeks while they re-train.

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