Work and pensions secretary Mel Stride and the PM Rishi Sunak
The government is looking to extend its powers so it can inspect the bank accounts of those who try to claim a social security benefit.
It’s part of the government’s crackdown on fraud while also getting people back into work. It was first announced in November’s Autumn Statement, and would apply to everyone claiming child benefits, universal credit and state pension.
Benefit claimants will have their bank accounts checked on a monthly basis (or even weekly) to make sure they’re telling the truth about their savings.
At the moment the department of work and pensions has to individually request bank details if they think fraud is being committed.
The government claims this measure will save £300 million per year by 2028-29, as 5.4 million people are currently on out-of-work benefits.
People cannot claim universal credit if they have more than £16,000 in the bank – and the government says it is losing £900 million a year by giving money to people who are over the threshold.
Labour MP for East Ham, Stephen Timms, raised the issue in the Commons on Monday, expressing concern over the “extremely wide powers being given to ministers” in the department for work and pensions.
Timms, also the chair of the work and pensions select committee, said the government was bringing these powers forward now “with zero scrutiny” – and noted there are serious concerns about it.
Stephen Timms, "New clause gives government the power to inspect the bank accounts of anyone claiming a social security benefit: child benefit, state pension, universal credit”
"Why is the government bringing these powers forward now, with zero scrutiny? The state has always had… pic.twitter.com/7CIYjdlkzX
— Farrukh (@implausibleblog) December 4, 2023
He quoted the Child Poverty Action Group, saying: “It shouldn’t be that people have fewer rights, including to privacy, than everyone else in the UK simply because they’re on benefits.”
He added that it was “quite surprising” that the government is bringing forward “such a major expansion of state powers to pry into the affairs of private citizens”.
“I’m increasingly puzzled as to why the government thinks this is an appropriate way to act,” Timms said.
“Every single one of us – this measure will give the government the right to look into our bank accounts, without suspecting that we’ve done anything wrong, without telling us that they’re doing it.”
He said this proposed legislation seems “incapable of being defended”, judging by the government’s response.
The clip of his speech, shared by an account on X (formerly Twitter) Farrukh, racked up more than 715,000 views in less than six hours.