Universal Credit: Portsmouth businessman says he was told to lie to cover up broken system
GOVERNMENT officials who told a self-employed businessman to ‘lie’ to cover up an error in how they recorded his benefits payments have come under fire.
Shocked Garry Byrne said he was told by staff at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to deliberately give false information about his Universal Credit claim.
The incident has since sparked an internal investigation by the DWP, which has admitted he should never have been asked to ‘input incorrect information’.
But Mr Byrne, co-founder of GDC Waste Limited in Portsmouth, is now demanding a radical overhaul of the system which he warned could become a target for fraudsters in the future.
The 54-year-old, of Eastney, said: ‘This could have cost me my businesses, my livelihood and my credibility. It could have cost me everything.
‘I was asked to deliberately lie about my earnings to cover up problems with their system. They wanted me to say my earnings were zero which they then said would flag up an overpayment for them to resolve – it was a work-around for their broken records system.
‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here was someone from an official government department saying to me “you need to lie”. It staggered me beyond belief.
‘I didn’t want to be complicit in this. I was worried that it would trigger some sort of legal action against me and could see my claim being suspended – or worse.
‘If I had gone ahead and done this blindly it could have ruined my business and ruined my life.’
The incident took place during a phone call review of Mr Byrne’s claim on March 19.
Mr Byrne had called the Lisahally Service Centre – a multi-million pound hub in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, which deals with Universal Credit requests – after a self-employment review created a ‘to-do’ request asking him for details about his income and expenses.
However, Mr Byrne said he had already given all these details during an earlier assessment and questioned why it was needed again.
Worried, he made a formal complaint to the DWP and requested a copy of the telephone conversation had with staff.
In an apology letter to Mr Byrne, seen by The News, Roger Witt, a DWP complaint resolution manager, said he had ‘requested a full investigation’ into the issue.
He said the system ‘automatically generated’ this request and it wasn’t one they could change at the service centre.
In his letter, Mr Witt added: ‘You were advised to put £0.00 in the to-do then we could use the previous totals provided at the service centre.
‘We should not have asked you to input incorrect information on your claim, as you have to state everything you provide is correct and true.
‘We should have arranged for the to-do to be removed from the system as it was not required. The system would then have used the original information.’
Mr Byrne has since raised fears Universal Credit could be exploited by benefit frauds hoping to cheat the system.
He said: ‘There’s potential for people to massively abuse the system. I feel there’s a risk people could be fraudulent in their claims. It’s given me no confidence in the system. It’s a complete shambles.’
Mr Byrne applied for Universal Credit at the end of last year after struggling to get his business off the ground, having injected all of his £40,000 savings into his electrical item recycling firm.
He added: ‘The reason I went on to Universal Credit was to support me through this tough period until I could get the business to a point where it would support me.’
A spokesman for the DWP said: ‘A member of staff offered help to Mr Byrne to get his claim processed. Mr Byrne was not happy with this solution and we have now processed his claim using existing information.’
The department insisted it would ‘remain vigilant to all forms of fraud and investigate, and prosecute, where appropriate’.
‘We are constantly refining our processes to ensure Universal Credit remains both accessible and secure, with those who need support getting it,’ the spokesman added.