DWP responds to social storm over Valentine's Day benefit fraud tweet

The Department for Work & Pensions has become embroiled in a backlash from media and social-network users after it sent out a Valentine's Day tweet that warned single people living alone not to defraud the system and claim benefits enjoyed by couples.

DWP Valentine's Day tweet: Stirred up social and media fury
DWP Valentine's Day tweet: Stirred up social and media fury

Last Tuesday (13 February), the DWP Press Office tweeted: "Claiming to be living alone is one of the most common types of benefit fraud - don't ruin #ValentinesDay by failing to declare your true circumstances."

An accompanying GIF of a heart-shaped hot air balloon with a romantic couple in the basket asked: "Declaring your true love tomorrow? Don't forget to declare your true living arrangements too. Don't get separated from your Valentine. Tell us of a change now."

As well as stirring up a hornet's nest of social-media ire, national media outlets including the New Statesman responded angrily to the social comms. A piece on the magazine's website was particularly angry about a link included in the tweet to a Daily Express article about benefit fraudsters, while the publication cited figures that suggest the amount of benefits paid out to scammers is minimal and offset by underpayments.

The DWP told PRWeek that previous similar campaigns tied in with calendar dates had not caused such a strong reaction. A spokesman added: "We regularly use significant dates in the calendar to help communicate our policies and did so for a number of issues on Valentine’s Day. We didn’t intend to offend anybody."

But offence was clearly taken by the likes of The Huffington Post, which described the tweet as "unpleasant" and "exceptionally misjudged".

But the most vociferous responses to the DWP's push were angry tweeters, who have described the campaign as "a strong entry from the DWP for the most ill-judged Valentine-related social media campaign award" and "a nadir in DWP comms".

Another was more crude: "Happy Valentine's Day you lonely, lawbreaking shits," it read, while other tweets riffed on the romantic rhyme 'Roses are red, violets are blue', adding their own couplets.

Another tweeter called the DWP’s social campaign: "So cynical. So judgemental. So threatening."

The Express piece gave examples of fraudsters, including a Leicester woman who wrongfully received £83,370 in benefits by falsely claiming she was single.

The article also quoted James Blake from the DWP's counter-fraud and compliance directorate. "Relationships have their ups and downs but not telling us when your circumstances change is a crime and the shameless few involved are deliberating diverting money away from those who really need it," he warned.

"True love may be hard to come by but benefits cheats aren’t difficult to track down."

Click here to subscribe to the FREE public sector bulletin to receive dedicated public sector news, features and comment straight to your inbox.

Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.

To submit a news, comment, case study or analysis idea for the public sector bulletin, email Ian.Griggs@haymarket.com

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in