Epping pilot scheme for benefit fraud may be rolled out to Harlow

Politics / Tue 14th Jan 2014 at 07:35am

BENEFITS fraudsters and those receiving more than they are entitled to are being targeted by a pilot scheme running in Epping Forest.

The district is one of six areas across the country to carry the Government’s posters, adverts, Facebook images and letters to claimants urging people to report suspected benefit fraud or changes to their circumstances.

And if the scheme is successful it may be rolled out in Harlow.

Anyone caught trying to defraud the system will face a £2,000 fine and will usually have to repay the money claimed.

But the scheme also appeals to claimants to tell authorities about changes that might affect their benefits – like getting a job or moving in with a partner – in case they unwittingly claim more than they are entitled to.

Cllr Syd Stavrou, Epping Forest Council’s finance and technology portfolio holder, said: “The campaign being run by the Department for Work and Pensions does not directly involve the council but we fully support its two key messages.

“Firstly, that if you are on benefits and your circumstances change in some way you need to notify us immediately and secondly that if you are aware of someone claiming benefits they are not entitled to you should report them.”

In the year 2012/13, overpayments due to fraud and error are estimated to have cost the country about £3.5bn.

Of that total, £1.2bn of benefits were overpaid due to fraud whereas £1.6bn were due to errors by the person claiming.

Another £0.7bn was overpaid due to official errors.
Housing benefits were by far the most overpaid category, at £1,270m.

Cllr Stavrou added: “Housing Benefit is means tested to help people on low incomes to pay their bills.

“We impress on our claimants that they must notify us in writing of any change in circumstances that affects their entitlement to benefit.

“Benefit fraud remains a major concern and Epping Forest District Council is committed to preventing and detecting it.

“The council will prosecute anyone trying to cheat the system and we are pleased to pilot the scheme.”

The adverts and posters feature satellite images of each of the areas, with local landmarks.

In addition, letters to claimants will highlight the importance of notifying the DWP of a change in circumstances and how it is everyone’s own responsibility to inform authorities of a change.

Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said: “We are keen to make sure that claimants know that even small overpayments can really add up over time, so they must get in contact with us and let us know about changes in circumstances straightaway.

“The new pilot campaign will help us stop fraud and overpayments before they even happen.”

Cllr Stavrou added: “People can report suspicions of benefit fraud using either the DWP number on 0800 854440 or the council’s own fraud hotline on (01992) 564440.”

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