‘Intrusive’ new plan could let DWP snoop on claimants’ bank accounts: ‘Completely unprecedented!’

‘Intrusive’ new plan could let DWP snoop on claimants’ bank accounts: ‘Completely unprecedented!’

Nigel Farage: Lawyers warn Government's new bank spying powers could "breach privacy rights"

Patrick O'Donnell

By Patrick O'Donnell

Published: 18/04/2024

- 14:32

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt reiterated his commitment to tackling fraud within the benefits system this year

Granting new powers so the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) could tell banks to share account information about benefit claimants, could breach the human right to privacy, it’s claimed.

Through the proposed provisions in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, the DWP would have greater authority to search for examples of fraud and error within the benefits and pension system.

As such, banks could be compelled to give the Government department financial information about benefit recipients, including banks accounts linked to partners, family members and landlords.

According to legal advice given to Big Brother Watch UK, these plans will likely “disproportionately impact particular groups”, such as disabled people, people of colour, women and pensioners.

Furthermore, the group claims these powers will “likely breach” Article 8 which gives Britons the right to privacy without Government interference.

The civil liberties organisation suggests the DWP's proposed new powers could expose peoples’ locations, movements, opinions, medical information and impact freedom of expression, but the DWP disputes this strongly.

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Man looking worried and DWP sign

The Government's new bill could see the DWP awarded "intrusive" new powers, campaigners claim


Silkie Carlo, the director of the civil liberties at Big Brother Watch, outlined why the group is opposed to the bill.

Carlo explained: “Everyone wants fraudulent uses of public money to be dealt with, and the Government already has powers to review the bank statements of suspects.

“However, this is a completely unprecedented regime of intrusive generalised financial surveillance across the population, not restricted to serious crime or even crime at all.”

Over 165,000 people have signed a Big Brother Watch petition calling for certain clauses in the bill to be dropped.

Mikey Erhardt, a campaigner at Disability Rights UK, highlighted why those on disability benefits may be concerned about this change.

He added: “These powers are a sledgehammer to crack the tiniest nut.

“These new powers would see disabled people deprived of the presumption of innocence, adding to the victimisation we already face in a punitive welfare system that often seeks to sanction people into work.”

As it stands, the fraud rate for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the primary disability benefit, is only 0.2 per cent.

A DWP spokesperson told GB News: “Big Brother Watch’s claims that DWP will use these measures to reveal information about people’s movements, opinions, and medical information are entirely false.

“The Government remains committed to these powers as a method of reducing fraud and error in the benefits system, which will save the taxpayer £600million over the next five years.

“These measures will require third parties to provide only limited, relevant information that may signal whether benefits are being improperly paid.


Man looking at letter and DWP sign

The DWP has emphasised the powers can not be used to access peoples' bank accounts


“It does not give DWP access to anyone’s bank account or see how claimants are spending their money.”

The department also highlighted that the DWP Third Party Data measure requires third parties to look at their own data and provide relevant, limited information.

This filtered information will be used to signal where DWP claimants may not meet the eligibility criteria for the benefit they are receiving but it is not a decision-making power used by the Government.

Furthermore, the DWP said the measure does not allow the department to access bank accounts and it will not have power to look at where people are spending their money.

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