Social Justice

Tens of thousand sign petition against DWP plan to snoop on benefit claimants' bank accounts

Big Brother Watch has launched a petition calling on the government to stop pushing forward with a bill giving the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) powers to spy on bank accounts

dwp/ spying

The DWP has been accused of "playing Big Brother". Image: Unsplash

Campaigners are calling on the government to axe plans giving the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) powers to “spy” on bank accounts.

Human rights group Big Brother Watch has launched a petition against the bill which has amassed more than 30,000 signatures in a matter of two weeks.

As The Big Issue has previously reported, the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill would compel banks to provide the DWP with data so that it can search for fraud and error among benefits claimants.

It has passed through its second reading in parliament and is now in the committee stage of the House of Lords.

Big Brother Watch warns that the current wording of the bill means it risks not only impacting the 22.6 million benefits claimants in the UK, but also the rest of the country.

The powers extend to other accounts linked with the claimant – such as those of current or ex-partners, children and landlords.

Campaigners argue it is a “major expansion of government power that takes away our financial privacy like never before and does away with the presumption of innocence – the democratic principle that you shouldn’t be spied on unless police suspect you of wrongdoing”.

Mel Stride, the secretary of state for work and pensions, clarified in parliament last month that these powers would only be used when there is a “clear signal of fraud or error” and bank accounts will not be investigated unless there is evidence.

But this has done little to ease fears. The Big Issue recently reported on a case where a mother was falsely accused of owing more than £12,000 to the DWP. It later admitted that a mistake had been made, and the government actually owed her money.

This was a case where “error” was signalled, but the claimant had done nothing wrong.

Susannah Copson, legal and policy officer at Big Brother Watch, explained: “The proposals to scan bank accounts on the premise of detecting fraud are incredibly concerning. With more than 22.6 million individuals in the welfare system, these measures subject people to unwarranted and suspicion-less surveillance merely for receiving benefits. However, it’s not restricted to people in the welfare system.

“Others linked to these accounts – potentially including landlords, ex/partners, or children – would find themselves tangled in this web of surveillance. In order to find these people, banks will have to conduct scans on all of our accounts.”



It comes following renewed outrage around the Post Office scandal, which evidenced the human impact of a powerful public body wrongly accusing innocent people of owing huge amounts of money.

Copson added: “Algorithms make mistakes. The consequences could be dire, resulting in people unable to afford essentials like rent or bills. The echoes of the Horizon Scandal are palpable, and these powers pose a massive risk of recreating such injustices on a broader scale. People on the poverty line, people with disabilities, who are sick or disabled, or are elderly, amongst others would be most at risk. 

“These powers have been smuggled in at a late stage of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill and were not properly scrutinised by the House of Commons. They’ve come completely out of the blue and it’s really concerning that powers of intrusive mass surveillance are being rushed through by stealth.

“Benefits are lifesaving for many. Tackling fraud is important and the government have a range of powers to do this already. Sacrificing the public’s privacy and putting vulnerable people at risk is not an appropriate way to go about it.”

You can sign Big Brother Watch’s petition here.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
More than two thirds of teachers worry children will go hungry this summer: 'Beyond heart-breaking'
child pulling hair of another child who is eating
Child poverty

More than two thirds of teachers worry children will go hungry this summer: 'Beyond heart-breaking'

1.6 million children at risk of 'losing their life chances' because of 'cruel' two-child benefit cap
three children
Child poverty

1.6 million children at risk of 'losing their life chances' because of 'cruel' two-child benefit cap

Will free school meals and vouchers be offered over the summer holidays?
Free school meals/ Easter holidays
Free school meals

Will free school meals and vouchers be offered over the summer holidays?

DWP's 'automation' of universal credit discriminates against single mums, researchers say
benefits/ money
Universal credit

DWP's 'automation' of universal credit discriminates against single mums, researchers say

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

The Big Issue

Sign up to get your FREE Doctor Who Archive Special

Celebrate the 14th series with your FREE edition of the Dr Who Special Archives