DWP Risk Review Team

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:35 pm on 26 January 2022.

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Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:35, 26 January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I have had an opportunity to work with you in the House, but also on various hills—with mixed results, but it is always a pleasure to be in your company.

I congratulate Kate Osamor on securing this important debate. My Department faces a huge responsibility, day in and day out, to pay benefits to millions of households, ensuring they have the help and support they need and wherever possible helping them into sustainable employment. We do everything we can to make sure that happens in a timely way. That was proven when covid-19 hit. We paid out to over 3 million more households at a time of global crisis. Universal credit in particular is a very resilient system, because it has been stress-tested in such an environment. Our latest public statistics show that around 90% of new universal credit claims are paid in full and on time.

Alongside that, we have another responsibility: to ensure that we are using taxpayer money properly and that funding is going to those who need it. Unfortunately, there are those who think it is acceptable to commit fraud against the welfare system. Those people cost the taxpayer—in fact, stole from them—an estimated £6.3 billion last year. That is £6.3 billion of taxpayer’s money—an absolutely staggering sum. I can just imagine what any Member in this House would want to do with that money to help not only their constituents but thousands of others. It is money that could be going to fund other vital Government services. Those who fraudulently claim that money clearly have no right to it.

I believe it is right that my Department makes every effort to find and crack down on fraud, and to ensure that we have the fullest range of tools at our disposal to achieve that. Those committing fraud are clever, committed and constantly thinking of new ways to get around the systems that we have in place, and to turn new technological advances to their advantage. The job of the DWP is not just to keep up with that, but to try and get ahead of it. It is our job to keep innovating and finding new ways to identify fraud where it happens and to put a stop to it. It is our job to keep fraudsters guessing at how we might find them, so that they do not find new ways to evade us. The risk review team is one of those innovations, established as a direct response to new threats. Its role is to provide an operational response to threats that have been identified. It does this by suspending suspect cases, where specific intelligence provides evidence of fraud.

I would like to stress that we are talking about a relatively small number of claims. Of the 3.7 million claims made to universal credit since May 2020, less than 4%, approximately 149,000, have been suspended under the risk review process. Those are not run-of-the-mill cases, but ones where, based on our analysis, we believe there is a high level of risk. It is because of that level of risk that claims have been legitimately suspended. It is an approach that provides much needed capability to disrupt and respond to new and emerging threats at pace.

To give an example of one of the challenges that the DWP has faced, in May 2020 the cyber-resilience centre, working as part of the integrated risk and intelligence service—we are pretty good at coming up with snappy titles for teams—prevented an attack by organised criminals. That led to the suspension of thousands of universal credit claims and prevented £1.9 billion in benefits from being paid to people trying to scam the system in 2020 and 2021. That is just one example; those attacks continued and more cases had to be suspended to safeguard public funds.