The Department does not take benefit fraud lightly, and we are committed to using the full range of powers and penalties at our disposal. As part of our response to covid-19, we have established our integrated risk and intelligence service to prevent high-risk claims from going into payment. Our investigations have successfully led us to correct and suspend serious and organised claims fraud in large numbers, and we continue to review our processes and to anticipate new attacks, which will make it even harder for people to defraud the taxpayer in the future.
A constituent of mine, a mother of three children, recently had her universal credit and housing benefit stopped for over two months because of a fraudulent claim made in her name. She was completely innocent, but she and her young family suffered significant financial hardship. We know that benefit fraud, in universal credit in particular, is increasing, and I know of several other MPs who have had similar cases. What will the Government do to stop innocent families suffering for months just because this Government are failing to detect and investigate fraud?
I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady to receive more details about that individual case, but first let me apologise, because that should not have happened. In effect, Ministers had to make decisions about the redeployment of staff in order to process the unprecedented number of claims, which went up from 2.2 million to 5.7 million claims. That meant deploying staff away from counter-fraud and into the processing of claims, but I am pleased to say that that has now changed and more staff are going back into fraud. We have to take fraud incredibly seriously, because it is individuals such as the hon. Lady’s constituent who are often the target of serious organised crime.