SPECIALIST benefits office staff will be given the power to make arrests as part of a new push to crack down on welfare fraud.

The Department of Work and Pensions will have the power to arrest people suspected of benefit fraud, the secretary of state announced on Thursday.

Some 2000 trained specialist staff will review more than two million Universal Credit claims over the next five years.

The government said the package of measures, which also give benefit office workers the power to carry out searches and seizures on suspected fraudsters, will stop “around £2 billion in fraud over three years”.

Other new measures include putting an obligation on organisations such as banks to share more data on those suspected of benefit fraud, meaning the DWP will be able to proactively snoop on social security claimants.

This would include checking if Universal Credit claimants have too much in savings to receive the benefit, or if they live abroad.

A new civil penalty will be introduced to impose harsher punishments on those fraudulently claiming benefits.

Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey said “it’s vital that the government ensures money is well spent”.

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She added: “The welfare system is there to help the most vulnerable. It is not a cash machine for callous criminals.

“This plan outlines what we need to fight fraud in 2022 and into the future.

“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.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, said: “Taxpayers must have confidence that money spent on welfare reaches those who really need it.”

The DWP said the extraordinary new powers were required to crack down on growing levels of benefit fraud which it says has grown as a result of the pandemic.