The SNP’s Work and Pensions spokesperson, Neil Gray MP, has slammed the Tories for apparently misleading the House of Commons on how they will address Universal Credit fraud and punishing those claimants who have been defrauded.

Following his Urgent Question on Wednesday after it came to light criminals were obtaining claimants’ details to make fraudulent online applications for Universal Credit, Mr Gray has written to Amber Rudd urging her to intervene in the scandal and set out publicly how she intends to repair the damage that has been done to the victims – including ensuring applicants get the money they deserve.

He has also highlighted that for Work and Pensions Minister, Justin Tomlinson, to have rescinded his statement that the victims of these criminal fraudulent claims would not have to pay the money back, was ‘incredibly disappointing’ and must be addressed. 

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 – which Mr Gray has also highlighted in his letter.

People are often being doubly hit, because fraudsters have applied for an advanced payment – a loan from the DWP – and then disappear with a portion of the funds. Claimants are left out of pocket because they 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.

Commenting, Neil Gray MP said:

“The response from Ministers and the DWP to this shocking situation has been incredibly poor. They have sent mixed messages, failed to accept their own responsibility and above all failed to protect people who are relying on their support the most. People who have been defrauded cannot be left to foot the bill.
“There is an urgent need for clarity and for Ministers to accept that failures of Universal Credit are at least partly to blame for people seeking foodbank support and going to desperate ends like being exploited by criminals to get access to the money they need to survive. 
“The DWP has to look at this again, stop blaming and punishing those who have been ripped off and ensure they now have access to the money they were due and are not further penalised.
“This once again highlights the failure of Universal Credit to get the right level of support safely to where it is needed in an appropriate time. Ministers need to scrap the five week wait which is driving these problems and review be advance payment system. That review should include making the advance payment the first claim of Universal Credit.”