The ‘dystopian’ tactic was likened to ‘what kidnappers do’ by a legal group – as the Department for Work and Pensions wades back through cases to whittle out fraud during the pandemic
Image: Daily Record)
Jobcentre chiefs have told Universal Credit claimants to hold up a copy of today’s newspaper to prove they’re not fraudsters.
The bizarre tactic was likened to “what kidnappers do” by the Public Interest Law Centre, a legal group which fights “systemic injustice”.
Claimants were also ordered to send a photo of themselves outside their open front door, a photo next to their street sign with their right hand holding it, and a photo of their ID card next to their face.
The request specified that the newspaper should be “your local newspaper for the area you live (not a national tabloid newspaper). This should be dated the same day you upload the photo.”
Universal Credit ’s Director-General Neil Couling at first said the request “looks suspicious”.
But he later confirmed the message, received by a PILC client on an online Universal Credit account, was genuine.
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It is part of an exercise to re-check around a million Universal Credit cases for possible fraud, after overpayments almost doubled to £8.4billion during Covid.
Mr Couling previously said thousands of people would get a “tap on the shoulder” this year, after security checks were relaxed during the worst phase of the pandemic.
It is thought the drastic measures are being applied as a last resort to only a tiny minority of those cases that are being re-checked for fraud.
One Whitehall source indicated fraudulent activity had been found on up to half of the cases subjected to the most stringent checks.
But Benjamin Morgan of the PILC warned the demands showed a “dystopian culture of suspicion”.
He told the Independent: “It is hard enough for many claimants to submit universal credit claims online in the first place due to digital literacy issues and other vulnerabilities – let alone fulfil such exacting and, frankly, invasive conditions.”
Another claimant told the website: “It was a stressful experience, and I’m tech savvy… These are the sort of people who will probably find themselves in financial hardship in a few months’ time. It seems like [the DWP] is making it up as it goes along.”
Mr Couling confirmed the requests were genuine during an exchange on Twitter.
He said: “Initially we used a ‘trust and protect’ approach.
“We knew some would abuse that, I’ve been very open about that, but it was for the greater good. But we always said we would go back and check. And this is part of that, given restrictions mean we can’t yet use our Jobcentres to the full.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “At the start of the pandemic we suspended face-to-face verification of new claims as part of our Trust and Protect scheme to ensure all legitimate claimants got paid.
“We always said we would go back and verify claims, in order to protect the public purse, as some people sadly chose to abuse the temporary arrangements.
“We are now checking cases and have implemented this approach temporarily in a small number of cases where a claimant has been unable to interact with us remotely, ahead of the return of in-person verification at Jobcentres.”