Council warns against ‘despicable’ Universal Credit scam

Benefits chiefs in Liverpool are warning members of the public about a Universal Credit scam that has already left vulnerable people penniless.

Liverpool City Council’s Revenue and Benefits Team has joined forces with the city’s Citizens’ Advice Liverpool to urge residents to beware of callous con-merchants who are posing as benefits officials.

The scam involves the victim being approached in public places and encouraged to apply for a ‘government loan’ by sitting down with the fraudster and filling in their details online. In reality, the crooks sign their prey up to change their existing benefits to Universal Credit and then request an advance payment. They then take a sizeable ‘cut’ of the advance, leaving the victim unwittingly on the new benefit and faced with paying off the full amount of the advance payment.

The fraudster then has the victim’s personal details, leaving them open for further fraud in the future.

In one Liverpool incident, a member of the public was approached by a fraudster posing as an official in the city centre. They sat down with a laptop and with just a few details managed to sign the victim up to Universal Credit. The con-artist successfully applied for a £1,200 advance payment and took £800 of it for themselves.

Liverpool City Council’s lead for Fairness and Tackling Poverty, Cllr Jane Corbett said: “This is a despicable con in which the culprits are preying directly on the most vulnerable members of society. The advance payment can be up to 100 per cent of the victim’s benefit claim, so they really can end up with nothing. Not only do they have to pay the advance back but they now find themselves signed up to Universal Credit, which often means they will receive less money than before.”

Cllr Corbett added: “We have contacted the DWP at national level, to ask them to raise the alarm and provide people with the right guidance but so far nothing has been issued. The negative effects of Universal Credit are bad enough, without vulnerable people falling foul of this cruel and sickening scam which could leave them penniless and in debt.”

There have been reports of the scam taking place across the country, with some examples of people and families being £1,000 a month worse off having fallen foul of it.

Citizens Advice Liverpool (CAL) provides free advice and support for anyone who wants to apply for Universal Credit, through its Help to Claim service. This may include assistance with checking the benefit is right for them and any support needed up to receiving their first correct payment. Help is tailored to the individual and available, face-to-face, over the phone 0800 144 8 444 and online through webchat and advice content citizensadviceliverpool.org.uk/help-to-claim.

Chair of CAL, Frank Hont said: “It is terrifying to think that the system is open to such abuse and that these fraudsters can potentially ruin someone’s life in about half an hour, with a few details and a few clicks of a mouse.

“Clearly there need to be more checks and balances within the system to help combat this sort of fraud. However, we would ask the public to be vigilant and do not be taken in by such offers.

“No official will approach you in the street and they will never ask for your personal details. Never hand over money, or your personal details and never agree to anything on the spot. Please always check with the DWP or the Citizens Advice Bureau before signing or agreeing to anything.”

Any potential scams can be reported via the Consumer Advice on 0345 404 0506 and the Police via Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.