Do you claim Universal Credit or any other benefits? If you have a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account you may be affected.
It has been reported that anyone on Universal Credit and other benefits can have their social media and bank accounts monitored at any time. There are an estimated 20 million people in the UK currently claiming benefits and that figure is expected to rise due to the impact of the pandemic.
Under the Social Security Administration Act, the government authorities including the DWP have the power to collect information about benefits claimants.
When the DWP investigates a persons social media accounts it’s ususally because there is reason to believe they’re trying fraudulently claim benefits.
However, an investigation can be triggered by the claimant making a mistake such as forgetting to report a change in circumstances like switching bank accounts or moving to a new address.
The definition of benefit fraud according to the DWP is when “Someone obtains state benefit they are not entitled to or deliberately fails to report a change in their personal circumstances.”
The most common form of benefit fraud is when a person receives more benefits than they’re entitled to due to a change in circumstances with their employment. It’s also common for people in receipt of benefits claiming that they’re the sole occupant of their home but are support by a partner, spouse or close friend.
It may be classed fraud by omission if you fail to inform the state about a change of circumstances. Common examples include;
- Your partner is now living with you
- You’ve have moved house
- Your hours have increased at work
- You’ve started a new job
- You’ve started full-time education
- A relative has died and left you some money
Common examples of benefits fraud where people claim benefit they’re not entitled to on purpose include;
- Living with someone who contributes to the household income without declaring that income to the authorities
- Faking an illness or injury to get unemployment or disability benefits
- Failing to report income from a business or employment to make income seem lower than it actually is
- Falsifying accounts to make it seem like a person has less money than they say they do
If the DWP plan to start a formal investigation against you, they will notify you in writing, by telephone or via email. As part of their investigation the DWP will need to evidence that you received a benefit that you weren’t entitled to.
Benefits fraud investigators have a wide range of powers that enables them to gather evidence in a number of ways, including surveillance, interviews, and document tracing. The investigation may also include a visit from a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO) or an interview with Fraud Investigation Officer. You will be notified in advance about either of these.
The evidence gathered for benefit fraud investigation may include;
- Inspector reports from surveillance activities
- Photographs or videos
- Audio recordings
- Financial data, including bank statements
- Interviews with you or people you know
- Any evidence submitted by those who reported you
- Investigators may also check your social media accounts and search your online profiles for pictures, location check-ins, and other evidence which may or may not be useful to them.
People who broadcast their lives on social media leave a trail of information about their life and daily routines. If this is not consistent with the details of that person’s claim for benefits the evidence may end up being used against them.