Benefits Expert: Challenging a retrospective ID check after a Universal Credit 'overpayment'

The column today concerns retrospective identity checks for people who had claimed Universal Credit during lockdown and how these checks can lead to benefit overpayments.

Friday, 19th November 2021, 6:00 pm
Claimants would be notified they had been overpaid Universal Credit even though they were entitled to the amounts paid and thus have to start the process of challenging the overpaid benefit often leading to unwanted stress and anxiety.

Citizens Advice nationally have identified this as a growing trend and are collecting information with a view to preventing this from happening in the future and to hopefully introduce better processes so this won’t continue to happen.

Prior to lockdown anyone claiming UC had to confirm their identity, typically providing approved photo ID such as a passport or driving licence and then confirm address details with utility bills, printed bank statements. It was also possible to set up an identity account via the UK Government website via a number of approved organisations, such as The Post Office.

However during lockdown it was not always possible for claimants to get this information to The DWP and the usual rules were relaxed in order to enable people to get some form of income. Now as we move out of lockdown The DWP are retrospectively doing the normal ID checks and requesting this from claimants. The issue that Citizens Advice are seeing is that some claimants only claimed Universal Credit for a few months because they were able to get furlough wages, work from home, etc. and their UC claims and accounts lay dormant or were eventually closed. These accounts however were still subject to retrospective ID checks with requests to provide the normal ID verification.

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Readers may have read about how some ID requests seemed somewhat peculiar, such as taking a selfie with a newspaper confirming the date the selfie was taken matches that of the newspaper. Claimants getting these requests were suspicious to respond as it had all the markings of an ID type scam. Claimants with closed UC accounts were unable to provide this via their online accounts but no provisions appear to be in place to provide the information another way.

So eventually claimants would be notified they had been overpaid UC even though they were entitled to the amounts paid and thus have to start the process of challenging the overpaid benefit often leading to unwanted stress and anxiety.

Our advice to any readers who have either received a request for ID verification or received notification of an overpayment is to seek advice from either Citizens Advice or their local advice/benefits bureau who will be able to confirm that this is a genuine request, to see if it is still possible to provide the information via the UC journal and if not seek to establish an alternative method of getting this information to The DWP. For claimants who have been notified of an overpayment the bureau again can confirm the overpayment arose due to a retrospective ID check and to assist in challenging it. This will also enable the national bureau to identify if this is a growing trend and liaise with The DWP to suggest steps to prevent unwarranted actions to recover payments from claimants genuinely entitled to UC.