Goshka had no idea she had been a victim of identity theft until she received a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions stating that she owed them £1,475. Initially believing it to be a fake, she went online to check, only to realise that someone had claimed universal credit in her name and she was being asked to repay the advance payment, which she of course had never received. She immediately called the DWP who transferred her between departments, each time promising to call her back. She heard nothing more from them until her employer received a letter instructing them to deduct £300 from her salary each month until the £1,475 was paid back in full. Together they contacted the DWP who advised them to contact the DWP Department of Fraud, which they immediately did – again with no success. To make matters worse, one phone call she made to the DWP was cut off when she failed the security check because her phone number and password had been changed.
“By January I’d spoken to eight different people, sent four letters and numerous emails, each time copying in my previous letters. After nearly three months I’d had no response, and the money was still being deducted from my salary. It got so bad I actually spoke to my GP because I couldn’t sleep and started having to take sleeping tablets. It really worries me how someone could get something as private as my National Insurance number. I can understand people finding out my address, but I don’t give out my National Insurance number to anyone. I just don’t understand how they got it. It’s made me really scared to go on the internet as you just don’t know what you can trust. I’m so upset about the situation. I work hard and pay my taxes and I don’t owe any money to anyone. I pay all my bills and I’ve never had to take any benefits. As well as the money it’s the fact my name has been used. I just don’t understand why they didn’t do a basic check. Instead they just blame me and say I need to pay. I’m really shocked by the situation.”
Goshka, who lives in Roehampton, contacted CAB Wandsworth for advice who referred her to South West London Law Centres. Her case was taken on by the Law Centre’s Money Advice team who sent a complaint letter to the DWP on her behalf along with all the relevant documentation. In response, the DWP issued a written apology, requested her employer stop taking deductions, and made arrangements for the money already taken to be refunded along with a consolatory payment for the distress caused.
“It is such a relief it is coming to an end after so many months. It went on for so long and I had no response. It was ridiculous. It was a lot of money – they should respond. The system is just wrong. I spent so much time at work, talking to different people who said they would investigate. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. It was always in my head. Every single day I was thinking what’s going to happen. Without Ruby’s [the caseworker’s] help I would still be in the same situation. She has been really fantastic. All my thanks go to her. She contacted me all the time and kept me informed. She was so helpful and without her it wouldn’t have happened. She was the best. They’re still investigating so it’s not finished yet but I want to be sure all my details are secure. I don’t want it to happen again. There are lots of people out there this has happened to. I want to make sure everyone is protected from fraud. I have to give proof but that’s fine – I have nothing to hide.”
Roni Marsh, Money Advice Team Leader at South West London Law Centres, commented:
“We are seeing more and more people struggling with debt as a result of the pandemic so it’s shocking when it’s the government’s failure to use adequate checks that is adding to the problem. Equally shocking is the fact that it needed intervention from the Law Centre to get our client’s situation addressed.”
If you have had a debt taken out in your name and need help to dispute that the money is owed, please contact our Money Advice team on 020 8667 9252 or by completing our contact form.