DWP and HMRC told to tackle benefit fraud and error after Concentrix fiasco
The DWP and HMRC need clearer plans to reduce fraud and error in the benefits and tax credits systems in the wake of the collapsed contract with Concentrix, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) declared today.
A report published by the PAC also criticised the government’s delays in the roll-out of Universal Credit, which it now expects won’t be fully completed until March 2022.
The committee highlighted concerns over the impact delays would have on operational costs and the pressure placed on staff and claimants through the use of new and underdeveloped systems to deliver Universal Credit.
Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “Introducing Universal Credit and tackling fraud and error are significant challenges for the government, with serious implications for the lives of many people.
“HMRC must do more to safeguard the interests of claimants as part of its strategy to address fraud and error and we will expect to see effective measures in place as a matter of urgency.”
The report highlights the importance of the government’s need to make progress following the ‘meltdown’ in performance of Concentrix, whose contract was ended following complaints that claimants’ benefits had been cut unfairly.
Despite this the PAC commented that neither the DWP nor HMRC had set meaningful targets to tackle fraud and error, which it interpreted as “a lack of confidence in and commitment to their own efforts to improve”.
The PAC noted that the government had failed to act on previous recommendations given in an October 2015 report regarding set targets for reducing underpayments and a review of claimants’ experiences of the tax credits process. These recommendations have since been accepted by the two departments.
The committee has advised that the DWP and HMRC report back to it on the targets they have set for underpayments and accuracy, and undertake further research into the problems that staff and claimants face.
A government spokesperson defended its record on handling fraud and error, saying: “The reality is fraud and error in the benefits system is at a record low, reflecting the work we are doing to improve detection, prevention and recovery, in order to protect taxpayers' money.
“We took swift and decisive action as soon as it became apparent that the contract with Concentrix was not working and we apologise to those affected.”
They emphasised that Universal Credit has already been rolled out successfully in several areas nationwide, helping claimants to get into and stay in work better than the previous separate benefit system.
(Image c. Joe Giddens from PA Wire/ Press Association Images)
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