Citizens Advice Oxford and Oxford City Council are warning Oxford residents against Universal Credit scams that could leave them seriously out of pocket.
Fraudsters are posing as staff from Jobcentre Plus – part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – and targeting people receiving benefits with false promises of grants or low cost loans in return for a fee. They ask for identity documents and bank account details before making fraudulent online claims for Universal Credit.
The “grant” or “loan” is actually a month’s advance payment of Universal Credit, which can be paid on the date a claim is made. Once the advance payment has been made, the fraudster demands their cut of the payment.
An advance payment is not a grant and must be paid back in full from ongoing Universal Credit payments – usually within 12 months. The DWP does not charge a fee for advance payments.
In some cases where personal details have been taken without consent, the first the victim knows they have been scammed is when they are told other benefits like tax credits have stopped. They have to repay the advance payment even if they did not receive it.
Scammers may also use fake accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat that look like genuine government accounts. These typically contain fake comments from people who supposedly received the non-existent grant.
Citizens Advice Oxford and the council say that Oxford residents should not hand out personal information to anyone claiming to offer government grants or cheap loans.
They also encourage people to report Universal Credit scams to prevent this fraud happening to other people. You can report a Universal Credit scam to Action Fraud, Jobcentre Plus, Citizens Advice or the police.
If you have any queries about Universal Credit or would like help to make a claim, you can call the Citizens Advice free helpline on 0800 144 8 444, visit Citizens Advice Oxford at 95 St Aldate’s between 10am and 2pm on weekdays, or use the national webchat service at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/helptoclaim.
Councillor Nigel Chapman, Cabinet member for Safer Communities and Customer Focused Services, said: “If someone approaches you to offer a government grant or low cost loan in return for your personal details and a fee, it’s a scam. Websites or social media accounts offering these types of grants or loans are also trying to rip you off.
“Don’t give your identity documents or bank details to anyone unless you’re completely sure they are who they say they are. If you need help making a Universal Credit claim, you can get independent, confidential advice from Citizens Advice Oxford or your neighbourhood advice centre.”
Al Bell, Director of Citizens Advice Oxford, added: “Jobcentre Plus or other DWP staff don’t approach people like this, and they will certainly never demand a fee for helping someone to make a claim. If this has happened to you or if someone’s taken your details without your consent, please report it urgently.”