Benefit officials will be given new powers to carry out raids and arrests on criminals involved in serious welfare fraud under new plans.
Work and Pensions officers will be able to execute warrants, conduct searches and seize evidence as well as arresting suspects.
The new measures are part of a Government attempt to get a grip on soaring rates of benefit fraud by organised crime groups, sparked by changes to the rules during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Criminal gangs carrying out large-scale fraud will be targeted by the new officers, who will have the same powers as tax officials at HMRC.
And additional proposals to give the Government greater access to bank account information will allow officials to target individuals claiming benefits who may not be eligible.
The measures, which will need to be approved by Parliament before being introduced, will cost taxpayers £600 million – but the Government has said it will save £2 billion over three years.
Some 2,000 specialists will be tasked with reviewing two million Universal Credit claims over the next five years.
Labour said the Government had “left the till open to organised crime” and “only had itself to blame” for benefit overpayments increasing to £8.4bn in 2021, up from £4.6bn in 2020.
Shadow minister for employment, Alison McGovern, said: “During the pandemic, fraud and error in the Universal Credit system rose to over 25 per cent. The Conservatives effectively left the till open to organised crime.”
“If the Government were serious about fraud, they would have taken action to get back the £11 billion of taxpayers money lost to fraud in the pandemic through their dodgy PPE deals, loans and grants,” she added. “They only have themselves to blame for the sheer scale of DWP related fraud that should have never occurred in the first place.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said the welfare system “is there to help the most vulnerable […] not a cash machine for callous criminals”.
“This plan outlines what we need to fight fraud in 2022 and into the future,” she added. “Thousands of trained specialists, combined with targeted new tools and powers, will mean we can keep up with fraud in today’s digital age and prevent, detect and deter those who would try to cheat the system.”