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by Bethany Rielly
A UNIVERSAL CREDIT claimant was asked to send a “kidnapper-style” photo of themselves holding up a local newspaper dated the same day in order to apply for the benefit.
The new policy rolled out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) requires some claimants to send a series of photographs to verify their identity including one “stood outside [their] front door” and another “holding [their] local newspaper.”
The message states that if a claimant does not provide all the evidence, which also includes the bizarrely specific request of standing “next to [their] street sign with [their] right hand holding it,” then their claim will be closed.
Campaigners have described the new policy as “dystopian” saying it speaks to a “culture of disbelief” in the DWP that “dehumanises” claimants.
Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), which published the message on social media after receiving it from one of its clients, compared the point relating to the local newspaper to demands made by kidnappers.
PILC research and communications co-ordinator Benjamin Morgan told the Morning Star that the message “is an extreme example of the way in which vulnerable claimants are routinely treated by the DWP and other welfare bureaucracies.
“There is an established culture of disbelief on the part of decision makers, which appears to be part of a repertoire of ‘gatekeeping’ tactics designed to make it harder for claimants to access their entitlements.”
The DWP claims that the process is an anti-fraud measure designed to go back and check claims made during the first part of the pandemic when face-to-face checks at job centres were suspended.
But Mr Morgan said that this did not apply to his client as he was a new applicant.
It’s not clear how many claimants have been sent the message, but charity Citizens Advice said that it knows of others receiving similar requests as part of the DWP’s trust and protect scheme to retrospectively check claims made during the pandemic.
Mr Morgan said that the new checks could create extra barriers to accessing the benefit. “Many of our destitute EU clients have limited levels of English and IT literacy, while others suffer from illness or disability,” he said.
“It is already difficult enough for such claimants to engage with the UC application process without these additional hurdles being placed in their path.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are now checking cases and have implemented this approach temporarily in a small number of cases where a claimant has been unable to interact with us remotely, ahead of the return of in-person verification at job centres.”
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