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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has officially stated that the recent adjustments to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill will not grant them access to individuals’ bank accounts or permit the monitoring of claimants’ spending habits. This declaration follows a notable online petition opposing the DWP’s proposed measures, specifically targeting the scrutiny of bank accounts for individuals on State Pensions or receiving benefits, which garnered over 10,000 signatures.

Critics argue that the proposed modifications to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill are overly assertive towards benefit claimants and pose a threat to their rights. Currently, the DWP can request bank transaction details in cases of suspected fraud, but the proposed powers would enable widespread monitoring without any suspicion of fraudulent activity, as reported by Daily Record.

Wendy Scott’s petition on the petitions-parliament website has garnered support from more than 19,800 individuals. The DWP responded, acknowledging limited resources and the challenges they face in addressing certain fraud and error issues. They emphasized the need to modernize and fortify the legislative framework to empower anti-fraud efforts and minimize the impact of genuine mistakes leading to debt.

The DWP defended its position, stating that the third-party data-gathering measure aims to proactively detect fraud and error in the welfare system. They emphasized the significance of data as a powerful tool in determining entitlement to benefits and claimed that the measure would improve access to data, making it harder for fraudsters to exploit the system.

The DWP clarified that the measure does not grant access to any bank accounts and does not enable them to monitor claimants’ spending. Instead, it requires third parties to provide relevant information from their data to indicate if claimants meet the eligibility criteria for their benefits.

Providing an example, the DWP highlighted the capital limit for certain benefits, emphasizing that claimants exceeding this limit constitute a significant source of fraud and error in the welfare system. The DWP assured that the new rule minimizes the sharing of personal data with third parties, requesting only the minimum information necessary to identify the claimant in their database.

Furthermore, the DWP assured the public that it would safeguard the data it receives and highlighted its capability to handle large amounts of data securely. They emphasized that the new measures could potentially save taxpayers up to £600 million by 2028/29, as overpayments due to fraud and error in the benefit system amounted to £8.3 billion last year.

The DWP concluded by mentioning that if the petition ‘Do not introduce regular bank account checks for benefit claimants’ reaches 100,000 signatures, it may trigger a debate in Parliament. The full response from the DWP is available for review online.

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