By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor
A Freedom of Information request has found that 85% of calls to the Government’s benefit cheat hotline were not pursued due to lack of evidence.
Over a million calls have been dealt with since 2010, leading to accusations that the Tories have cynically attempted to turn the poor against themselves; with some claiming friends, family and neighbours are cheating the system.
However, 887,468 of the 1,041,219 reports of fraud were closed and deemed to have no or insufficient evidence. In 2015 alone 132,772 complaints were closed out of a total of 153,038, an 87 percent failure rate.
The reporting service allows accusers to remain anonymous and ask for suspects’ hair colour, build, scars, tattoos and race.
Owen Smith Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary said: “In a bid to distract people from the brutal impact of their cuts, the Tories have been trying desperately to turn communities against each other.
“Time and again they are labelling people who rely on our social security system, like low paid workers on tax credits or universal credit and bedroom tax victims, as ‘scroungers’.
“This is clearly having some impact as thousands of honest people are being falsely accused of fraud.
“If this Tory government had any decency they’d realise how destructive this is and change course, but I’m not holding my breath.”
Benefit fraud costs the taxpayer £1.3billion a year, 0.8% of all welfare spending. However, £700million vanishes due to DWP errors and another £1.1bn is lost through claimant error.
The figure that is lost to tax fraud is £16bn, which dwarfs the amount that is fiddled through false benefit claims. The amount of money lost in legal tax avoidance is also thought to run into many billions of pounds.
Tim Farron the Lib Dem leader said: “The alarming number of incorrect reports shows the system has failed, it should be the DWP which investigates benefit fraud, not your closest neighbours.
“This McCarthy-style reporting of benefit fraud is another example of the government’s desire to turn people against the welfare state and to treat sick and disabled people as second-class citizens.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Information from the public about suspected benefit fraud saved the taxpayer around £180m last year.
“We take benefit fraud very seriously, so whenever we receive an allegation we investigate, and if necessary, prosecute and recover overpaid benefits.”