Universal Credit UK: Britons asked to repay money they do not owe in fraud crisis

Universal Credit: Expert on ‘difficulty’ of monthly payment

Universal Credit is overseen by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), responsible for ensuring the right people get the amounts to which they are entitled. The benefit is designed to help those who are out of work or on a low income by providing them with a monthly form of financial support. The sums of money people will receive vary according to their circumstances, for instance, age, relationship status and family situation.

However, some Britons have recently expressed their dismay at receiving correspondence which demands they repay benefits they have not received, or even claimed.

It is thought the unfortunate situation is down to fraudsters, who have harvested the personal details of unsuspecting Britons to apply for the advance payment of Universal Credit.

The DWP has set up an advance payment system to provide immediate support to individuals who cannot afford to wait out the five week processing period.

Fraudsters pocket the cash, disappearing with the funds. 

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The issue could become more serious for Britons, as failure to voluntarily repay could mean the DWP can try to claw back the money through salaries.

The government can directly approach employers, asking them to directly deduct the sum repayable from an individual’s pay packet. 

Reports from BBC Radio 4’s Money Box detail a number of listeners who are experiencing this difficulty.

In some cases, individuals have claimed, payments of more than £1,000 have been requested.

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The programme stated these individuals have received letters with no prior warning, demanding they repay money they have not owed.

After this, listeners reported finding it difficult to contact the DWP in order to remedy the situation. 

Universal Credit advance payments are designated for individuals who do not have enough to live on while waiting for their first payment. 

The most a person can receive as an advance is the amount of their first estimated payment.

However, the advance must be paid back, usually in instalments, within 12 months, although interest is not applicable. 

Benefit fraud is an issue which the government is making attempts to stamp out, to ensure only those entitled to the money receive it. 

According to a letter from the National Audit Office (NAO), in 2019-20, the DWP estimates it overpaid £1,730million, recovering £70million of overpayments.

Joshua Reddaway, Director of Work and Pensions VFM at the NAO, wrote to Stephen Timms MP, stating it was “likely” most of the £1,730 will be lost to the taxpayer.

Mr Reddaway added: “The main difference between the estimated level of overpayments and the rate of recovery, is that most overpayments go undetected and are never recovered.”

The DWP has stated repeatedly that it takes fraud seriously, and will continue to challenge people who seek to abuse the system.

Express.co.uk has contacted the Department for Work and Pensions on the matter.

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