The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is looking at bank and social media accounts as part of a crackdown on benefit fraud.
Fraud and error in the UK benefits system reached record levels during the pandemic - as Birmingham Live reports.
There are 24 million people on DWP payouts in the UK - and figures estimate there was a reported £8.4 billion overpaid in the last financial year.
READ MORE: Mum will 'struggle to support her family' after £20 Universal Credit cut
The DWP estimates that 3.9 per cent of benefits spending was overpaid during 2020/21 with £6.3 billion of the overpayments believed to be from Universal Credit claims
The Universal Credit director-general has warned that thousands of claimants could be approached in the coming months to investigate overpayments.
The DWP said: "In simple terms an overpayment is benefit that the claimant has received but is not entitled to.
"Overpayments of benefit can occur in a number of ways. In the main they are due to claimant, system or official error."
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Seven types of overpayments the DWP look for to spot benefit fraud
1. Mistake by the claimant (non-disclosure of circumstances or incomplete form)
2. Deliberate fraud by the claimant (failing to disclose a material fact or deliberate misrepresentation)
3. Interim and advance payments including short term benefit advance that could not be recovered from the benefit for which they were paid
4. Universal Credit recoverable hardship payments (classed as an overpayment for recovery purposes if recovery can no longer be taken from the benefit that was in place at the time of payment)
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5. Overpayment due to late award of other benefit/income
6. Overpayments due to the way in which the Direct Payment banking system operates
7. Official error – only applies to Universal Credit and contributory Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance claims made on or after April 29, 2013
In each of those cases, the DWP can make efforts to get the money back under Social Security legislation.
Investigators can turn up at your home or workplace at any time in plain clothes if they suspect foul play.
They also use a wide range of powers to gather evidence such as surveillance, document tracing, interviews, checking your bank accounts and monitoring your social media.
You may be taken to court where a fine of up to £5,000 can be imposed. A person's benefits can be cut for up to three years if they are convicted of benefit fraud.
A DWP spokesman said: "We take any abuse of taxpayers' money very seriously and those who claim benefits they are not entitled to will face criminal prosecution.
"We also have robust plans in place to recover fraudulent claims and drive fraud and error down to the lowest feasible level."
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