Tens of millions of pounds of public money is believed to have been stolen, with claimants left owing hundreds, after fraudsters targeted Britain’s main welfare benefit, universal credit.
The BBC has been told of “money pouring out of the public purse” as criminals make “staggering” bogus online claims.
A loophole in the online system is exploited to make fraudulent applications and claim advance loans.
The government says it is determined to bring fraudsters to justice.
A benefits official told the BBC that in one job centre more than a third of claims are currently suspected of being bogus, while £100,000 of fraudulent activity each month was recorded at another branch.
Claims include one from “a 19-year-old with six blind children” and another saying “Harry Kane” (the name of the Tottenham and England footballer) was their landlord.
Another official told the BBC that the Department for Work and Pensions estimates 10% of the 100,000 or more advances paid monthly are potentially bogus.
This suggests that fraud rates on universal credit are about four times higher than on most other benefits.
Ironically, one of the original goals of universal credit was to save about a billion pounds in fraud and error.