Edinburgh to target benefits cheats

Mark Harper MP. Picture: Comp

Mark Harper MP. Picture: Comp

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EDINBURGH is one of three places to be targeted in a benefits fraud crackdown by the Department of Work and Pensions.

The Capital, along with Fife and West Dunbartonshire, is believed to be one of the worst areas north of the Border for the crime and will be among nearly 50 UK towns and cities earmarked as the government looks to lower the £1-billion-plus a year cost to taxpayers from welfare cheats.

The six-week campaign starts today and will use mass media including television and radio adverts, posters, letters and Facebook adverts to urge claimants to report changes in their circumstances or face a prison sentence. The advert, which displays a map pin icon landing on the region, tells claimants to “call us to update your claim before we call you”.

The campaign launch follows a report from the value for money watchdog, the National Audit Office, which criticised the UK Government for not increasing its efforts to tackle housing benefit fraud.

It said housing benefit overpayments, due to fraud and error, had gone up from £980 million to almost £1.4 billion between 2010/11 and 2013/14. Most of the latter figure was due to error while £340m was attributed to fraud and £150m put down to official mistakes.

The new drive is particularly aimed at people who move their partner in but continue claiming as a single person, get a job or increase their income without informing the authorities, or take a lodger but do not update their claim.

Under new rules, up to 40 per cent of a claimant’s benefits can be clawed back to repay stolen money, with penalties which can be imposed without going to court increased from £2000 to £5000.

The NAO added it was an “escalating problem” and acknowledged housing benefit was difficult to administer.

The DWP insisted money lost to fraud was on the decline and new detection methods meant it was expected to continue to fall.

Department minister Mark Harper said the campaign was designed to make it easy for claimants to get in touch if they needed to.

He said: “We are giving benefit claimants every opportunity to tell us if their circumstances have changed, as the majority do. But those who cheat the system need to know we will use everything in our power to stop them stealing money from hardworking taxpayers and that they could land themselves in jail.”