The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insists that such visits have been government policy for 15 years.
But campaigners say the visits are “unacceptable spot checks” and a breach of the human rights of benefit recipients, and could cause particular problems for many disabled claimants.
The policy only came to the attention of the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement after a new page appeared on the DWP website, saying that claimants may be selected at random to be visited by a “Performance Measurement review officer” to check that their benefit payments were correct.
The page warns: “You won’t always get a letter in advance telling you about the visit.”
One disabled campaigner who saw the page said on his blog that he believed “the random selection and the entry into the home without warning may breach the human rights act”.
Steven Sumpter, who blogs at A Latent Existence, added: “As many people have pointed out to me, plenty of sick people cannot cope with this intrusion or unpredictability. (Including myself.) Others may not have the ability to find the documents or to think well enough to provide the answers demanded.”
John McArdle, co-founder of the user-led – Scottish-based – grassroots campaign group Black Triangle, said the scheme appeared to be “a guise to make unacceptable random spot checks on citizens for no other reason than that they have the misfortune to be dependent on our welfare state through no fault of their own”.
He said it appeared to be “an official policy of intrusion, intimidation and discrimination” that breached article eight – the right to privacy and to a family life – of the European Convention on Human Rights.
He added: “If this despicable government devoted even a fraction of the resources it spends harassing sick and/or disabled people into foodbanks and an early grave to chasing up high net worth individuals and rampant tax avoidance by giant corporations there would be no need for any cuts or austerity.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the policy was “just another example of benefit claimants being criminalised and subjected to endless abuse by government departments which is undeserved”.
She said: “The idea that because anyone needs to use the so-called safety net of the welfare state that leaves them vulnerable to having someone from DWP turn up unplanned and unannounced on their doorstep seems an unacceptable abuse of power.”
A DWP spokeswoman said the purpose of the visits was to “collect data on benefit expenditure, and also on internal errors, claimant errors and fraud”.
She said this information was sent to the National Audit Office and so the policy – which had been in place for about 15 years – was “not about reducing fraud and the people who are doing these visits aren’t fraud investigators”.
But DWP refused to confirm that information gathered from these visits can also be passed to fraud investigators, although a DWP spokesman said: “What would you expect them to do? Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t investigate fraud?”
3 July 2014