Benefits paid to prisoners have declined by 96 per cent since 2007 – but almost £21m is still missing because only half the money has been recovered to the Department for Work and Pensions, an investigation by Help Me Investigate has revealed.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) centralised its benefits database in April 2012, prompting the decline in overpayments to prisoners: data provided in response to Freedom of Information requests shows that in 2007 the DWP paid prisoners £8.8m in benefits, but this figure dropped to £320,000 in 2013.
Since 2007 prisoners have received at least £42.5m in benefits they are not entitled to, with £21.7m recovered by the DWP over the last seven years. In 2013, DWP managed to recoup more debt than it paid in overpayments.
Since 2012 the Ministry of Justice has also been informing DWP directly of new prisoners claiming benefit, allowing the figures of overpayments to decrease.
But half the money owed remains outstanding.
A DWP spokesman said:
“Previously, the system relied on prisoners telling us, whereas with the new system we stop the benefits the moment they go into prison.”
‘Overpayments to prisoners’ is the official term for paying benefits to prisoners, as their right to benefits is suspended upon their criminal conviction.
These overpayments, as well as the number of prisoners receiving benefits, have been decreasing on a year-on-year basis.
A majority of overpayments, £39.2m, occurred from 2007 to 2011 while the financial year to 2013 say overpayments totalling merely £3.2m.
Yet the figures show that overpayment of benefits to each individual prisoner has increased.
Whereas in 2007 the average prisoner in receipt of an overpayment received £487, last year that average stood at an estimated £1787. Although much fewer payments are being made in error, the errors still being made are worth more.
Responding to the data provided to Help Me Investigate, Labour MP Grahame Morris told the Daily Mirror:
“There must be an investigation into how this was allowed to happen and urgent steps taken to ensure there are checks in place so it doesn’t go on happening.”
The figures exclude Housing Benefit, which according to the DWP is administered by local authorities and therefore isn’t included in the data.
Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Rachel Reeves declined to comment.