23 April 2024

Government rejects calls to withdraw plan to monitor bank accounts of pensioners

The Government has defended its proposals to give banks and other financial institutions powers to monitor the bank accounts of anyone in receipt of State Pension, “to tackle benefit fraud”, despite opposition from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In a House of Lords debate on the 22 April on the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, currently going through Parliament, several Peers expressed concerns about how the Bill, in its current form, would allow for the Department for Work and Pensions to obtain information about the bank accounts of people who receive benefit payments by requiring financial institutions to monitor customers’ accounts. This included those receiving the State Pension.

Baroness Kidron (Cross-Bencher) revealed that she had received submissions from 42 organisations opposing the provision, including those providing end-of-life care. She added that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has advised the Government that the clause should be removed, and that bank lobbyists have highlighted the huge drain on resources that would be better placed fighting serious fraud and organised criminal gangs.

Lord Sikka (Labour) spoke about the issue of State Pension being classed as a benefit, despite it being taxable. He also questioned the premise of state pension fraud, which has been used to justify monitoring bank accounts. Lord Sikka highlighted that this penalised the rest of pensioners, who have never committed any fraud. He also asked how the surveillance of those receiving state pensions who have foreign accounts would work, especially if the nation in question did not allow for such surveillance.

Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab) expressed concerns that allowing the DWP to look into bank accounts would discourage uptake of pension credit, despite the Government’s attempts to encourage the opposite. For some people, seeing an extension of the state’s ability to intrude into their private affairs will discourage them from applying.

Baroness Sherlock (Labour) highlight that there are two possible reasons as to why this monitoring would be needed with regards to pensions: either the Government want to keep open the option to test the means or assets of people who get the state pension, or they plan to trawl the bank accounts of almost 10 million pensioners in the UK to find out if they are spending time abroad, because UK pensions paid abroad are uprated only in certain countries.

The Government Minister of State, Viscount Younger of Leckie , said that to restrict the power to cases where DWP already has a suspicion of fraud would defeat the purpose of this measure. He added that the intent is to enable the Government to use data from third parties to independently check that benefit eligibility rules are being complied with.

He went on to say that pension-age benefits are not immune to fraud and error, and that it is the Government’s duty to ensure that these benefits are paid correctly and in line with the benefit eligibility rules that Parliament has previously agreed.

The Minister noted that to remove pension-age payments from the scope of the power would significantly undermine the Government’s power to tackle fraud and error where it occurs.

Commenting on the House of Lords debate, CSPA Deputy General Secretary David Luxton said:

“The surveillance of pensioners bank accounts is not justified on grounds of suspected fraud, or indeed any other grounds. The State Pension is a universal benefit payable from age 66 without any means-testing to anyone who has paid sufficient National Insurance contributions. In those circumstances how can it be justified to tackle suspected fraud?

CSPA is actively lobbying MP`s and Peers on this issue, with our Later Life Ambitions (LLA) partners in the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO), and the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners (NFOP). We will be meeting on 1 May at Westminster to plan the next stage of our campaign following the House of Lords debate.


Are you a current or retired Civil Servant? Become a member of the CSPA to support our campaigning, and gain access to a wide range of benefits.

Share this post:

Related Articles