Scam Alert -Universal credit scammers

SCAM ALERT – Watch out for Universal Credit scammers

According to BBC News, benefit claimants are being targeted by scammers promising a low-cost loan or even a grant from the government.

What they don’t tell you is that the money you’ll receive is actually an advance for Universal Credit. After the fraudsters have taken their cut of your advance, victims are left to pay back the total amount after their Universal Credit payments begin. One scammer took £1,000 as their “fee” from a payment of £1,525.

According to the DWP, 10% of new Universal Credit claims could be fraudulent. Victims have included vulnerable people such as  those who are out of work, homeless or have drug dependency issues.

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How to spot a Universal Credit scammer

Victims described being approached by someone who says they work for Jobcentre Plus. They could be smartly dressed and even have a badge or ID to “prove” they are acting on behalf of the Jobcentre. They promised one victim she’d receive a grant from the government that didn’t need to be paid back.

To apply for a Universal Credit advance on your behalf, they will ask for ID such as your driving licence or passport, your bank card or details of your accounts and could even ask to take a photo of you.

One victim reported that the first sign that she had been scammed was when her tax credits were stopped. When she called up to ask about it, she was told she couldn’t claim tax credits and Universal Credit at the same time. Repayments started to be taken from her benefits as soon as her UC payments started.

Watch out online

BBC report details how victims are being targeted through accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat as well. They’re operating under handles such as Same Day Drop UK, Same Day Grant Payment, Discretionary Budgeting Grant, moneyinaminute and Gov Grants Same Day.

These fake pages are very convincing, using government logos to try and seem more trustworthy. One victim described how she was lured in by comments from other users who had supposedly received this “grant”. It’s easy for scammers to use fake accounts to comment with testimonials, and delete any replies that say it’s a scam.

The problems it could cause

Advances for Universal Credit need to be paid back in 12 monthly installments after you get your first UC payment. It definitely isn’t the “free money” scammers might make it out to be.Find out more about paying back a Universal Credit advance.

Jobcentre Plus staff have reported seeing bogus claims, including some from university students who wouldn’t usually be eligible for Universal Credit, as well as applications including children who don’t exist. If a scammer makes a UC advance application on your behalf using false information, this is classed as benefit fraud.

Those found out to be committing benefit fraud could:

  • be told to pay back the overpaid money
  • may be taken to court or asked to pay a penalty (between £350 and £5,000)
  • their benefits may be reduced or stopped.

From https://www.gov.uk/benefit-fraud

How to report a Universal Credit scam

Work and Pensions minister Baroness Buscombe says: “We’re encouraging people to listen to their instincts. If someone offers you a low-cost loan from the Government they may be trying to steal your identity.

“Treat your personal information for benefits in the same way you would for your bank. And if you think you’ve been targeted, we urge you to report it urgently.”How to report a scam or fraud.

Report any social media accounts you see promoting fake government grants using the report feature on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.

If you think you might have been a victim of a UC scam, whether you were approached or your details were used to apply for Universal Credit without your consent, you should report it. Get in touch with Action Fraud, local police, Jobcentre Plus or report it to Citizens Advice. Scammers have already been prosecuted for committing this type of fraud. Your report could stop someone else falling victim in future.

3 Billion in Unclaimed Benefits

Billions of pounds of benefits left unclaimed

A recent analysis by the DWP found that millions of people are failing to claim benefits they are entitled to, leaving nearly £13 billion pounds a year unclaimed. Could this include you?

The poor take-up rate could be influenced by the stigma many people feel about taking welfare benefits. The public vastly overestimate the numbers of people ‘claiming falsely’ or ‘committing fraud’. Kent University found that 1 in 5 people believe a majority of claims are false, while 14% believe a majority of claims are fraudulent. The Government’s own statistics indicate an actual fraud rate of only 1%.

Many pensioners are struggling

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that nearly 2 million elderly people are having money problems, with hundreds of thousands unable to pay regular bills or keep their homes warm. At the same time around 1.4 million pensioners are failing to claim £3.3 billion they are entitled to. The DWP estimates that these pensioners are on average entitled to £2000 per year. If your only income is the basic state pension, you might qualify for Pension Credit and other benefits.

Pension Credit is an income-related benefit made up of 2 parts – Guarantee Credit and Savings Credit. Guarantee Credit tops up your weekly income if it’s below £159.35 (for single people) or £243.25 (for couples). Savings Credit is an extra payment for people who saved some money towards their retirement, for example a pension. You can find out more at gov.uk

The “forgotten” unemployed

Recent research by the Resolution Foundation found that only 800,000 of the 1.5 million unemployed actually claim benefits. 300,000 people of working age who are unemployed or work less than 16 hours are entitled to Job Seekers Allowance (or the Universal Credit equivalent) but do not claim it at all. The study found that they are mostly women aged 55 to 64 or young men. The DWP estimates that half a million people may be entitled to £1.6 billion of unclaimed Income Related JSA.

In addition the DWP figures show that around half a million people who are unemployed through disability or long term illness are leaving £2.7 billion of Income Related Employment and Support Allowance unclaimed. This amounts to a massive £5000 per person.

Families missing out too

The DWP estimates that only 8 out of 10 families entitled to Housing Benefit are actually making a claim. This means that around 1.6 million families are missing out on 4.8 billion pounds a year. Take up of Housing Benefit is particularly low in the private rental sector where only 64% of those entitled are claiming this.

What you can do

If you think you may be entitled to Pension Credit, it only takes one phone call and you won’t have to fill in a form. Call the Pension Credit claim line on 0800 99 1234 (textphone: 0800 169 0133). They will fill in the application for you over the phone. It’ll be quicker if you have the following details to hand: National Insurance number; bank account details; information about your income, savings and investments; information about your pension (if you have one); details of any housing costs (such as mortgage, interest payments, service charges); and partner’s details (if you have a partner).

To check if you should receive other benefits and how much you should get, you can use the benefits calculators at turn2us.org.uk entitledto.co.uk

Moving From Benefits To Work

Moving From Benefits To Work

Firstly it is important to try and do the majority of the legwork before starting your new employment.
Initially I advise all clients to carry out a benefits calculation, ideally they should look to do one called a better off calculation. As this will ask for your current benefits and then ask you to input employment details and wages. It will then recalculate what your entitlements will be based on your expected income. Although not an exact science it is a good approximation.
When you start work you should do several things, first inform the Department for Work and Pensions (Jobcentre) 0345 608 8545 or if claiming Universal Credit 0345 600 0723 you will need to have NI Number, details of hours and wages, start date, type of contract, etc.
If you are in receipt of Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction, or both. You should inform your local authority in writing, typically via a change of circumstances form and explain that you are starting work, start date, hours per week, etc.

Extended benefit payments
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support

If you move from benefits into work, or extend your hours to 16 or more per week, you may be entitled to four weeks run on of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support at its previous level if: – the work is expected to last for at least five weeks; – neither you nor your partner has claimed a Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support extension in the last 26 weeks: – you (or your partner if you have one) were claiming one of the benefits below before work started or hours increased:

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Income Support
Income-related Employment & Support Allowance
Incapacity Benefit
Severe Disablement Allowance
Contributions-related Employment & Support Allowance.

After the 4 week extension period expires Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support will be based on your new income.

How to claim

You (or your partner) must be about to return to work or have just started work of more than 16 hours per week
When you close your out of work benefit claim with Jobcentre Plus the extended payment of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support should be arranged automatically
You must confirm that you have been claiming benefits for the previous 26 weeks and that the work is expected to last for at least five weeks
During this four weeks you can give details of your expected earnings to your local council who can process your Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support claim with your in-work details.

Support for Parents
Childcare Element of Working Tax Credits

An award of Working Tax Credit (not Child Tax Credit) can include an amount towards the cost of childcare with a registered childminder or nursery. This can also include childcare costs such as summer school and after-school clubs.

The amount is 70% of the actual childcare costs up to £175 for one child and up to £300 for two or more children (so an amount up to £122.50 or £210 can be included in the Working Tax Credit award).

An amount towards childcare can be included for

A lone parent working 16 hours or more a week
A couple if they both work 16 hours or more a week
A couple if one partner is working 16 hours or more a week and the other partner is incapacitated, in hospital, entitled to Carer’s Allowance or in prison.

Childcare Vouchers
If a person cannot get an amount towards childcare included in their Working Tax Credit they may should ask their employer if they run a childcare voucher scheme. The employee receives a voucher towards childcare in return for a reduction in their pre tax salary. This allows them to purchase childcare without paying tax and national insurance on that amount and can save up to 30% of childcare costs.

Note that accepting a cut in pay that drops a person’s salary below the national insurance lower earnings limit may affect future entitlement to benefits such as Maternity Allowance and State Retirement Pension.

Not all childcare provision is payable by vouchers so parents will need to ensure that their childcare provider is happy with this arrangement.

Most people would be better off receiving help with the cost of childcare through Working Tax Credit if they qualify, but the calculator can illustrate what the better option might be for someone based on their circumstances.

Early Years Learning
There are free ‘early learning’ classes (for example, a school-attached nursery) available for all 3 or 4 year olds (starting from the term following the child’s third birthday).

This is for at least 38 weeks a year and 15 hours a week (to be spread over at least three days). Families with a low income may also get free classes for 2 year olds.

Help for disabled people
The Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at Jobcentre Plus provides specialist advice to disabled clients on finding work, job retention and getting practical help through the Access to Work scheme.

Access to Work
If you have a health condition or disability which affects your ability to work you may be entitled to financial support for costs such as travel to work and workplace adjustments through the Access to Work scheme.

There is further information about Access to Work here: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work.

If you are unemployed and moving into work or a work trial (not voluntary work) or have been working less than six weeks, Access to Work pays 100% of the following costs:

Travel costs if public transport can’t be used
A support worker or reader in the workplace
A communicator for support in interviews
Workplace adjustments which are not considered ‘standard equipment’. Guidance is available on those items considered ‘standard equipment’ (such as analogue hearing and walking aids) at your local Access to Work Contact Centre.

If you have already been employed for more than six weeks, Access to Work will only pay a proportion of the costs above. The employer will be expected to make a contribution towards the cost based on their number of employees.

How to claim

Speak to your local Access to Work Contact Centre:
South East England/London/East of England – 020 8426 3110
South West England/Wales/West Midlands/East Midlands – 02920 423 291
Scotland/North West England/North East England/Yorkshire and Humberside – 0141 950 5327.

Other financial support available
Jobcentre Plus advisers’ discretionary fund

Personal advisers at Jobcentre Plus offices may have access to a discretionary fund to help certain groups of people in exceptional circumstances. Payments can be made, for example, to buy a new suit to attend an interview or to help pay initial childcare and travel costs.

To be eligible a person must be on a New Deal scheme or entitled to certain benefits, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support or Carer’s Allowance.

In-Work Emergency Discretion Fund

If a lone parent in work has an unexpected financial problem that could stop them carrying on with their job they can apply to the In-work Emergency Discretion Fund.

A person must be:

A lone parent working for at least 16 hours a week
Their job must be expected to last for at least 26 weeks and
They must have been in the job for less than 26 weeks.

The Jobcentre Plus personal adviser can award up to £300 from the In-work Emergency Discretion Fund. Ask your local Jobcentre Plus office for more details.

Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card
You may be eligible for a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card to help with your fares during the first few months of commuting to a new job if you’re claiming one of the following:

Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit, if you’re aged between 18-24 and have been unemployed for 3-9 months
Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit, if you’re aged 25 or over and have been unemployed for 3-12 months
Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support, from 3 months into your claim if you are working with an adviser on returning to employment

You won’t be eligible for a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card if you’re participating in the Work Programme.

Card holders are entitled to a 50% discount on selected rail tickets.

When you have a Jobcentre Plus travel discount added to an Oyster card you can get:

Half adult-rate pay as you go fares
Child-rate 7 Day, Monthly or longer period (up to three months) Travelcard, or Bus & Tram Passes
Jobcentre Plus discounts are not available on transport for london cash fares.

How do I apply?
To apply for a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card, you’ll need to go to your local Jobcentre Plus office.

To have the Jobcentre Plus travel discount added to an Oyster card, you’ll need an Oyster card which you’ve registered at a Tube station, Oyster Ticket Stop or Visitor or Travel Information Centre. You can then ask the staff to add your discount entitlement onto your Oyster card.