The SNP has demanded that the UK government take ownership of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings over Universal Credit and ensure that people receive the money they deserve, and those who have been defrauded do not have payments taken from them.

Leading an Urgent Question in the Commons today, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Neil Gray highlighted a scam uncovered by the BBC in which criminals obtain claimants’ details to make fraudulent online applications for Universal Credit. 

The scam is reported to have left some claimants £1,500 worse off, with losses to the DWP reported to be spiralling to as much as £20 million.

In the same week, it was reported by The Independent that the DWP has cut staff numbers by 21% since Universal Credit began – the equivalent of 19,189 staff.

People are often being doubly hit, because fraudsters have applied for an advanced payment and then disappear with a portion of the funds. Because advanced payments are a loan from DWP, claimants are out of pocket and then have to pay back the loan – pushing them further into debt.

The SNP has consistently condemned the UK Government’s decision to make advanced payments a loan, an entirely counter-intuitive and parsimonious policy. The SNP are calling on the UK Government to pay applicants the money they deserve.

Commenting, Neil Gray MP said:

“It’s a national scandal that the UK government has left Universal Credit claimants so desperate that they have been exposed to these criminals. They are so consumed by Brexit that they can’t focus on the day job of delivering for people across the UK.

“Most people can see that the five week wait is leaving people impoverished and this is driving people to not only foodbanks, but other desperate situations just so they can survive. The five week wait must end, and the Advance Payment system that has been exploited must no longer be a loan.

“Systems should have been put in place to ensure this fraud should not have happened in the first place – the Tory Government has fallen asleep at the wheel, leaving some people realising they are being asked to pay back thousands of pounds. 

“DWP Ministers must now not only make sure nobody is out of pocket, but that they get the help they need and that these criminals exploiting them are brought to justice.

“All the while, the Tories have cut the front-line support which claimants need to feel confident in interacting with Universal Credit. This is a toxic combination that highlights this UK government’s total disregard for those who need help the most.

“DWP Ministers need to start taking ownership of their failings; stop blaming people who have been the victims of fraudsters, and urgently ensure that those who have been scammed get the money they are owed.”