Andrew Simpson* was contacted in September by a debt management company run by the Department of Work and Pensions claiming he owed £821 due to fraudulently claiming Universal Credit while being employed. The debt collectors wrote to his employer, demanding that the money was deducted from his next pay cheque.
However, Mr Simpson, from Edinburgh, who has been in full-time work with his current employer for the past eight years, has never claimed Universal Credit or any other kind of benefit.
He believes he is one of a number of people whose identity has been used to fraudulently claim benefits since the rules over face-to-face interviews for benefit applications were changed due to the pandemic.
The pilot, who is currently on furlough from his job at Edinburgh Airport, has tried to discuss his case with the DWP, but has received repeated letters telling him that he still owes the money.
He said: “Despite me trying many times to get through to their ‘fraud team’ to report it as identity theft, I never once managed to speak to anyone apart from call centre workers who were unfamiliar with my case in each circumstance and unable to help in any useful capacity.
“I then reported it to the police where a crime reference number was created, and I was assured the police and DWP would investigate. This apparently did not happen. I received another letter this week demanding another payment from my employer. After making many phone calls, I finally heard from them later this week saying they were investigating the issue and that demands for payments would be stopped - this is three months since they first demanded money from me.”
He added: “Being in one of the hardest hit parts of the economy during Covid, both this identity fraud and harassment from the DWP due to their lack of investigation is having a serious effect on my well-being and financial resilience.
“The worst part however is the blatant arrogance of the DWP of not investigating this fraud or engaging with the victims, despite a police intervention, during this process.”
In March, the DWP suspended face-to-face interviews for new applicants. Around 3.7 million people subsequently made applications for the benefit between then and October. Although most applications will have been legitimate, some have come from fraudsters who have taken advantage of the change by claiming in other people’s names.
Mr Simpson said he was concerned that other, more vulnerable people may not be in a position to fight demands for payment. At one point in the process, he was told to set up a direct debit to the DWP to pay a minimum amount of the money owed each month - while his case was being investigated.
He said: “It does concern me that other people may be more vulnerable and not be in a position where they can question this.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Fraud and error in the benefits system remains very low, with 96.5 per cent of benefits paid correctly and we can assure those who are a victim of fraud they will not be held liable for any debt.”
*Andrew Simpson’s name has been changed.