Tory ministers chose to celebrate Valentine’s Day by threatening to send loved-up couples to jail

Happy Valentine’s Day! But don’t forget to tell the DWP if you’re living with your partner or you could end up in jail

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey 

Valentine’s Day is traditionally marked with gestures of love and affection. Loved-up partners the world over celebrate by sharing cards, gifts, chocolates and flowers on February 14th.

But Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey’s department has chosen to mark the day by threatening couples with jail. The Department for Work and Pensions, launched a fresh bid to warn couples who live together, but are wrongly registered as single, that they could be arrested if they don’t come clean.

The official DWP Twitter even published a special video for the occasion.

The pink-tinged animation showed a happy couple in a hot air balloon, with “LOVE” emblazoned on it. It included the message: “Declaring your true love tomorrow? Don’t forget to declare your true living arrangements too.

“Don’t get separated from your Valentine. Tell us of a change now.”

Some facts about benefit fraud

Anyway, once the charm wears off, here’s the context of this claim:

  • The government estimates 1.1 per cent of benefits paid out are fraudulently claimed (in 2015-16). But even this minute proportion comes under the category of “overpayment”, which includes honest mistakes on both sides. So only a tiny minority of people are fraudulently claiming.
  • There is also underpayment in the system, which is almost the same proportion. The amount underpaid to benefit claimants in the same period as above was 1 per cent of total expenditure.
  • The government says undeclared cohabiting is a common type of benefit fraud. But this is thought to be because of fast-changing living circumstances and the complicated nature of cohabitation as a relationship – “living together” can mean many different relationships, and the government asks you to declare the income of your married partner, your civil partner, or if you are “living together as a married couple” if you’re claiming benefits or tax credits, which is a confusing description.
  • Cohabiting claims have most infamously been messed up on the government’s side – the private company Concentrix that managed tax credit claims for HMRC withdrew money from people who they accused of cohabiting with RS McColl (a Scottish cornershop chain that would appear on some people’s statements because you can collect benefits there), the 19th century philanthropist Joseph Rowntree (a claimant lived in a house provided by the Foundation under his name), and their own children.

In a statement released last night, James Blake from Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Counter Fraud and Compliance Directorate, said: “Relationships have their ups and downs but not telling us when your circumstances change is a crime and the shameless few involved are deliberating diverting money away from those who really need it.

“True love may be hard to come-by but benefits cheats aren’t difficult to track down. Our fraud investigators are committed to bringing criminals to justice. Don’t wait for us to find you – tell us of a change now.”



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