During the past 18 months everyone has faced challenges and significant changes to their life due to the covid-19 pandemic. Many new ways of working and doing routine tasks had to be implemented. Face to face meetings were avoided where possible and the use of telephone or video meetings became common place. Those people who might have preferred to see someone face to face were often forced to communicate via online methods.
Many people faced financial difficulties. Some lost their jobs or found themselves on very much a reduced income through furlough. An increase in unemployment amongst other factors resulted in an increase in claims for state benefits.
A recent report (National Statistics - Fraud and error in the benefit system for financial year ending 2021, Published 13 May 2021) suggests overpayments of benefits may amount to as much as £8.4billion – the highest figure ever. One of the potential explanations for this is the lack of evidence being submitted in support of claims due to remote methods of working.
The general crime department has noticed a steady increase in enquiries concerning allegations of benefit fraud. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will be under renewed pressure to address the problem. The fight against the pandemic has been exceptionally expensive for the Government at a time when tax revenues have reduced due to the impact on the business sector. From compliance officers to fraud investigators, it would appear there is a significant increase in activity and many recipients of benefits are being asked to provide explanations and be interviewed.
As with all investigations, what is said in response to the allegations can make all the difference at a much later stage. It is also a risk that more allegations of fraud may in fact be due to innocent mistakes having been made. This could be due to people being unable to speak to someone about their unique situation when they were submitting their claims. It is vitally important that advice is obtained as early as possible if this happens.