Government takes softer approach with benefit fraud campaign

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is taking a softer approach with its latest benefit fraud campaign, with ads aiming to encourage people to report changes to their circumstances rather than pointing the finger at fraudsters like previous pushes.

The six-week campaign launches today (3 January) and carries the strapline “Benefits. Are you doing the right thing?”.

It will target six pilot areas across the country with posters featuring birds-eye-view shots of the district they appear in, newspaper ads, on Facebook and via direct mail to claimants. The pilot areas are Southwark, Cardiff, Epping Forrest, Blackpool, Blackburn and Hounslow.

While the activity is still designed to spur people to report suspected benefit fraud, it also aims to inform claimants that they should report changes that might affect their benefits – like moving in with a partner or getting a job – before overpayments or long-term fraud can take place. Benefit claimants can risk fines of up to £2,000 or prosecution if they do not inform DWP of a change in circumstances.

Last year, DWP estimates it lost more in overpayments due to errors from claimants (£1.6bn) than that due to deliberate fraud (£1.2bn). The cost of overpayments due to errors by officials in the period was £700m, while £1.4bn was under claimed due to official or claimant errors.

The ads mark an attitude shift away from the most recent benefit fraud campaign by the account’s previous agency CheethamBell JWT, which used a bullseye signal and carried the strapline “It’s not if we catch you, it’s when”. The new campaign was created by Team Enter, which comprises three agencies: Enter and Creston Group agencies The Real Adventure and EMO.

Lord Freud, minister for welfare reform, says: “We are keen to make sure that claimants know that even small overpayments can really add up over time, so they must get in contact with us and let us know about changes in circumstances straightaway.

“The new pilot campaign will help us stop fraud and overpayments before they even happen.”

However, Claudia Wood, deputy director of cross-party think tank Demos, says while benefit fraud cannot be excused, “you have to question the wisdom of this pilot”.

She adds: “Targeting specific locations with a communications blitz is a replay of last year’s ineffective ‘Go Home’ illegal immigrant vans and may do little more than stigmatise genuine claimants entitled to and in need of benefits.”

The “Go Home” campaign was created by the Home Office this summer and saw vans driving around areas in London carrying posters featuring handcuffs next to text reading “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest”. 

The campaign drew widespread criticism and sparked more than 200 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), branding it “offensive” and “irresponsible”. It was eventually banned by the ASA in October – but only on the grounds that it was “misleading”, rather than its likelihood to cause offence. 

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