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Universal Credit

Volume 555: debated on Monday 10 December 2012

We are investing £400 million in the next four years to reduce fraud and error as part of a joint operation with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Cabinet Office. We are already making progress, and universal credit will enable even greater strides to be made. At the autumn statement, the inclusion of universal credit in the baseline—a critical moment—means we now anticipate savings from fraud, error and overpayments to be roughly £2.2 billion per year.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s response. Any money defrauded from the taxpayer is money taken from those who are most in need. Does he agree that universal credit is one way in which the Government are cracking down on those who are abusing the system?

That is absolutely true. We were left with a series of benefits that too often were riddled with fraud and error. Not all of this is about fraud. Many people are receiving overpayments or underpayments when they should be receiving the correct amount. Too often with tax credits, people are chased at the end of the year, without their realising that they had received the wrong money in the first place. Universal credit will be kinder in the sense that it will be adjusted each month. It will help us save huge sums—some studies state £2.2 billion per year.

The Government’s decision to go digital by default—in other words, people will be able to receive universal credit only if they apply online—surely creates a greater chance of fraudulent activity. We all remember what happened with the online form for child tax credits. What guarantees do the Government have that universal credit will not be susceptible to online fraud and that the necessary checks will not take such a long time that they will delay payment? All of a family’s income will come through universal credit.

We have taken account of that. I have had the opportunity to discuss this with the hon. Lady, and I am sure I will again. The reality is that digital by default does not mean that that is the end of it for people who are not online. On the contrary, we allow for those who are not online. We will help and support them as they make their claim, and it will be taken through the system. They will receive their money on time. For those in doubt, we will make payments anyway. We fully recognise the reality of the need for money and for it be sorted out afterwards—that has been taken into account.