Benefit claimants have been warned to remain vigilant in the wake on a new Universal Credit scam that is potentially tricking poor and vulnerable people out of hundreds of pounds.
Citizens Advice says conmen posing as officials from the Department for Work and Pensions are targeting benefit claimants as they leave Jobcentres, wrongly informing them that they need to apply for Universal Credit and then go on to apply for advance payments in their name.
Universal Credit claimants can apply for up to 100% of the value of their claim whilst they await an initial payment, following action by the DWP over concerns that the minimum five-week wait is leaving people destitute and pushing them into the arms of high-cost doorstep lenders and loan sharks.
However, these payments must be repaid over time through deductions taken from future Universal Credit payments.
The warning has been issued by staff at the Gosport branch of Citizen Advice, who say the area has yet to be targeted but warned of instances in other parts of the country where low-income households have been coerced by scammers.
It raises important quetions about the security measures built into the new benefit system, such as how easily it may be for fraudsters to apply for advance payments in the name of a genuine benefit claimant.
The charity told Portsmouth News: “A number of cases reported to Citizens Advice involve people being approached in their home and in public – especially outside job centres and in pubs – by smartly-dressed individuals targeting those on benefits and offering them “government loans”.
“The individual does not realise they have been scammed or signed up to universal credit until their legacy benefit has stopped being paid, and the person approaches their local jobcentre where they are informed they have moved onto universal credit, with an advanced payment to repay.”
Benefit claimants are being warned to keep an eye out for these fraudsters, and if approached they should immediately inform the police and/or DWP.
People will be notified by post when they are due to be moved to Universal Credit and invited to an interview at a Jobcentre office to assist them with their new claim.