CRIMINALS may have pocketed at least £1.5billion in taxpayer money through fake Universal Credit claims.

The process for making a claim has been relaxed to make sure people receive their money quickly, including identity checks made online, rather than face to face.

These changes have led to a huge rise in false claims, which may have resulted in a loss of £1.5billion, the BBC reports.

It says fake claims have been made by organised criminal groups and individuals.

It comes as the number of people claiming Universal Credit in April soared by 70 per cent, to almost 2.1million.

There were 856,500 more people claiming unemployment benefits in April 2020 compared to March, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit

IF you're experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don't cover costs, here are your options:

  • Apply for an advance – Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it's a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit payout.
  • Alternative Payment Arrangements – If you're falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you're part of a couple.
  • Budgeting Advance – You may be able to get help from the Government for emergency household costs of up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You'll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You'll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.
  • Cut your Council Tax – You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax or be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments if your existing ones aren't enough to cover your rent.
  • Foodbanks – If you're really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.

In order to process benefits claims quickly, many of the usual processes were relaxed in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

These included identity checks being done online instead of with face-to-face interviews, and some information not being verified such as monthly outgoings including rent.

Officials told the BBC that while the vast majority of checks were from genuine applicants, looser checks did open the doors for criminals to make fake claims.

The Sun has asked the Department of Works and Pensions to comment and will update this article when it has been received.

The level of fraud in the welfare system is currently at 1.4 per cent. But for Universal Credit it is 7.6 per cent, which is a 27 per cent rise in a year, according to the BBC.

It's not the first time the benefits system has been targetted and last year we reported that fake claims, including one which referenced Harry Kane as a landlord, were made.

The Sun has been calling for claimants' wait for their first Universal Credit payment to be slashed from five weeks to two weeks as part of its campaign to Make Universal Credit Work.

We also want to see the work allowance increased, the taper rate slashed and childcare payments made upfront rather than in arrears.

Welfare expert, Nichola Salvato, is answering your Universal Credit questions. Her most recent column looks at what happens to payments if your medical assessment is cancelled.

If you're struggling with your finances, we have 11 steps for getting out of debt.

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