UK Politics

Duncan Smith says 'fake claimant' officials face action

"Sarah's story" from DWP leaflet Image copyright DWP

Iain Duncan Smith has said his officials who used fictional claimants to show the impact of benefit sanctions could face disciplinary action.

The work and pensions secretary said the made-up stories on the DWP website were meant to help people understand the system and were based on "real life cases".

But Mr Duncan Smith stressed that he had not seen them before publication.

And he told BBC News that the officials "should never have done that".

The DWP faced widespread criticism last week when it emerged that two sickness benefit claimants, supposedly called Zac and Sarah and who featured on the department's website, were not real people.

'Binary system'

Stephen Timms, Labour's acting shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "You couldn't make it up - but it seems Iain Duncan Smith can. The only way he can find backers for his sanctions regime is by inventing them."

In one case study, a welfare claimant, "Sarah", explains how having her benefits cut had helped teach her the importance of having a CV and that she was now "really pleased" with how it looked.

In the other, "Zac" said he let his work coach know when he was going to miss a meeting and because he did so, "my benefit payment hasn't changed".

The apparent deception was uncovered by a Freedom of Information request by website Welfare Weekly.

Mr Duncan Smith said "someone in the operations department" had posted the stories, which were "drawn as a summary from real-life cases but it wasn't a real-life case".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Duncan Smith is planning a shake-up of work capability tests

He added: "It was quite wrong, those individuals [responsible] ultimately will face some form of disciplinary procedure."

He told BBC News that "thousands of these things go out, week in week out, to help advise claimants and advisers, on how best to make the system work and how it can work for them".

And the erroneous case studies had now been taken down from the department's website, he added.

The work and pensions secretary dismissed calls from Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, a member of the work and pensions select committee, to quit over the issue.

"Debbie Abrahams just bangs on the whole time about that and the reality is every time she asks a question nine times out of 10 she is wrong. This is nothing to do with us. I at no stage saw this," he told Sky News.

Mr Duncan Smith's response came as he announced a planned shake-up of the rules on sickness benefit to encourage more people into work.

In a speech in London, he said the current system was too "binary" - with claimants deemed either fit or unfit for work.

Instead, claimants should be supported to take up any work they could, even if it was just for a few hours, he added.

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