Disability Alliance slams Tory plan to combat benefit fraud

Many vulnerable people could lose out under the Tories' proposed 'three strikes' policy to crack down on those who repeatedly defraud the benefits system, a campaign group has warned.

Many vulnerable people could lose out under the Tories’ proposed ‘three strikes’ policy to crack down on those who repeatedly defraud the benefits system, campaigners have warned.

Under the plans, those who commit benefit fraud once will lose their out-of-work benefits for three months, a second offence will attract a benefit sanction of six months, and if someone commits fraud three times they face losing their out-of-work benefits for up to three years.

The Tories claim that more than £14 billion has been wasted on benefit fraud between 1997 and 2009.

The policy follows on from last year’s Tory announcement of a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule to bar jobless people from claiming unemployment benefit if they turn down offers of work.

The Disability Alliance said this latest proposed crackdown could catch out innocent claimants.

This is because too many inaccurate payments are due to errors by the Department for Work and Pensions or the Benefits Agency and are not due to intentional fraud by the claimant.

Policy director Neil Coyle said: “Are the Tories going to match this with an equivalent ‘three errors and you are fired’ policy?

“The complexity of the system leads to both assessors and claimants getting things wrong. What we really need is more support for people to understand the full welfare system.

“But increasingly organisations like Disability Alliance have had their funding cut so independent advice is not unavailable unless you’ve got the ability to pay.”

Coyle added that the figures the Tories were using were “misleading” because they appeared to include overpayments by benefits agencies, not just people committing fraud.

He also has concerns over how this matched up with the Tory policy to tackle poverty and thought potentially it could lead to increased levels of petty crime.

Campaign group Community Links also attacked the plans. Chief executive Geraldine Baker said: ““Withdrawing benefits will drive people into debt and destitution and homelessness, entrenching poverty rather than tackling its causes. Crackdowns further stigmatise people on benefits, by giving the impression that most claimants are cheating the system. In fact, over 99% of claimants are not committing benefit fraud.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said: “This is about fairness. While the whole country is tightening its belt it’s scandalous that thousands are managing to defraud the taxpayer out of billions.”

The plan follows news that up to 40,000 public sector jobs could be cut in the first year of a Conservative government as a result of vacant posts not being filled.

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