Opposition MPs claim a climbdown by the DWP over victims of Universal Credit (UC) fraud being expected to cover losses.
During an urgent debate on the extent of organised UC fraud, DWP minister Justin Tomlinson told the Commons that, where fraud was confirmed, victims would not have to cover cost – with the department willing to look at the restoration of legacy benefits should victims be better off.
But Tomlinson – the DWP minister branded “flippant” by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee who had to apologise to Parliament for errors he made during a debate on the benefits freeze – maintained the organised fraud figures that prompted the debate were unverified.
The urgent question was raised by the SNP’s Neil Grey, following revelations that tens of millions of pounds of public money is believed to have been scammed out of UC claimants left owing hundreds.
Claimants, said Grey, were being driven to desperation by UC.
“That desperation will continue until Universal Credit is fixed,” he said.
Opposition MPs made the argument about the onus the DWP appeared to put on anybody other than itself – and especially claimants – to rectify losses to organised fraud.
Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Margaret Greenwood MP said UC had higher rates of fraud that the legacy system it was supposed to replace.
She urged Tomlinson to “look at the evidence and stop the rollout”.
Labour’s Melanie Onn said the wider public would be “incredulous at the level of incompetence” around UC, while colleague Stephen Timms MP called out DWP ministers for “one monumental mistake after another”.
Claimants, said Labour’s Lisa Nandy, had been left “humiliated” by the DWP in having to beg for money.
Such victims were, said Labour’s Martin Whitfield, those who suffered under UC having had no part in shaping it.
Questioning the extent to which claimants should or could be expected to cover organised fraud losses, Labour’s Ruth George seemed to secure the concession from Tomlinson that they would not have to – and might even see legacy benefits restored.
But Tomlinson did hear his defences of UC during the debate branded “absurd”.
The minister made repeated references to technological efforts the DWP was making in seeking solutions to organised fraud – among other issues around UC.