DWP looking for ‘two things’ when it starts checking claimants’ banks | Personal Finance | Finance

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has outlined the two main things it will be scrutinising when its new powers to inspect benefit claimants’ bank accounts come into effect.

The DWP is set to receive these new powers as part of an effort to decrease fraud, debt and error within the benefits system.

One of the most contentious measures being introduced is the ability for DWP investigators to examine claimants’ bank accounts.

The initiative, dubbed “Third Party Data Gathering”, is a “data sharing” power.

The DWP states that it necessitates third parties, such as banks, to supply pertinent information to the DWP, which could indicate a claimant does not fulfil the eligibility requirements for the benefit they are receiving – for instance, having excessive savings.

Under existing Universal Credit regulations, you are ineligible if you possess over £16,000 in cash, savings and investments. The DWP has declared this will be its “main priority”.

In addition, it will also track if claimants are residing overseas for longer than permitted by the rules.

A fresh amendment to the bill – currently making its way to the House of Lords – also compels banks to monitor their customers who are on these benefits, and report to the DWP if an account exceeds the capital limit or is used abroad for more than four weeks, reports the Mirror.

The DWP has promised that the monitoring will only look for “limited and relevant” data, which could indicate misuse of benefits.

It assured it won’t gain access to personal bank accounts or check on exactly how claimants use their money.

In an earlier announcement, the DWP revealed plans to oversee accounts from the top 15 banks in the UK, covering 97 percent of all benefit recipient’s banking activities.

These include Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Halifax, HSBC, NatWest, Santander, and TSB.

Normal procedure will be followed for any potential claim identified by the DWP, and no automated penalties will be imposed. A recent assessment document confirmed there would be no “automatic decisions” made purely based on data.

The vulnerability of each claimant will be considered, and automation responsibly deployed by case workers.

The aforementioned document read: “[This] measure can potentially include vulnerable people, [and] these areas will be explored further in the equality impact assessment.

“We are clear, however, that no automatic decisions will be made based on data alone, and DWP staff will follow the usual business processes when looking into any cases, taking account of circumstances and wider vulnerabilities before deciding on a course of action.”

Despite these provided assurances, outcry continues with campaigners lashing out over this initiative arguing it treats those relying on means-tested benefits as “criminals by default”.

Silkie Carlo, Director for Big Brother Watch, warned: “Such proposals do away with the long-standing democratic principle in Britain that state surveillance should follow suspicion rather than vice versa.

“It would be dangerous for everyone if the government reverses this presumption of innocence. This level of financial intrusion and monitoring affecting millions of people is highly likely to result in serious mistakes and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent.”

However, a DWP spokesperson commented on the measure designed to target areas where fraud and error are highest, such as Universal Credit, stating: “These changes will not allow DWP direct access to bank accounts, but will require third parties to share data signalling fraud with us so it can be considered further. It will also help identify people who have made a genuine mistake with their claim, preventing them from potential debts.”

The blueprint was originally introduced in the 2022 policy paper, “Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System”, which is accessible here.

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