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Ouch Q&A #10: Disability benefit fraud

by Rob Crossan

19th June 2007

Q: Disability benefit fraud: from what I've been reading in the newspapers, half the country seems to be at it.
A: Criminal fraud and human error with regards to DLA (Disability Living Allowance) comes to over one billion pounds, according to 2005 figures from The Office of National Statistics quoted in the press (see clarification). That's over a third of all benefit fraud. Frankly, there's too many people playing this game already pal.

Q: But is such fraud really that easy?
A: Well, it seems that you don't have to do a very good job of pretending you're a crip. Only in the last couple of months we've heard about the winner of Cornwall's Strongest Man Contest in 2003, who was claiming £43,000 in disability benefits at the time of his victory. Or how about the woman who held down a number of cleaning jobs - including one at Liverpool Crown Court - who claimed she needed a wheelchair and received more than £21,000 in benefits? She ended up receiving her sentence in the very same place she had previously only been visiting to mop out for work!

Close-up of a form being filled in
Q: Hope she was good at her job, then. So how on earth do people go about it?

A: Much of the fraud is believed to come from people who have been temporarily disabled through injury or illness, and who have simply carried on claiming long after they have recovered. Since all claimants of DLA now have to be seen by a doctor employed by the Benefits Agency as well, that - according to Julie Doyle, manager of Dial House in Chester (a charity that helps disabled people claim benefits) - makes it "a mystery" how so many people continue to get away with wrong or even fraudulent claims.

Q: But is the scale of the problem really as bad as certain sections of the popular press seem to suggest?

A: Doyle told Ouch: "There's been a huge sea change in the last ten years. New Labour at first wanted people to go on benefits to get unemployment levels down. Now though, we're in such a service industry society that they'd rather people worked in McDonalds than claimed benefits. Disability fraud is a tiny figure compared to the amount of disability benefits that go unclaimed each year. I think there is a political agenda here though in terms of people actually getting away with fraud. The only thing I can think of is that there must be corruption on behalf of GP's."

Q: So it is all scaremongering, then?

A: No. Cases such as those mentioned - plus others like the 47-year-old Welshman who claimed £8,000 in benefits whilst teaching salsa and hip-hop dance lessons four times a week, or the marathon runner given a 10-month prison sentence for disability benefit fraud - have undoubtedly happened, but they grab the headlines and increase the pressure to clamp down on the rules for receiving DLA, making it more difficult for genuine claimants.

Q: How do we stop the fraudsters then?

A: The National Benefit Fraud Hotline is one way to go about it, though the majority of disability fraudsters are caught out by neighbours. A DWP spokesman told Ouch: "We have a strategy in place to reduce DLA fraud and run regular campaigns to raise awareness of our action in tracking down fraudsters."
Clarification: The DWP / Office of National Statistics report from 2005, hased on a survey of 1200 random DLA claims conducted in 2004, breaks down this headline figure for overpayments into three areas: fraud (£40m), change in customer circumstances (£630m) and official error (£60m).
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