Public attitudes to benefit fraud and error

A review of changes over time in public perception of fraud and error in the welfare system and how the government tackles it.
A woman filling in a form
  • Authors:
    Molly Mohan (DWP)
    Maxine Willits (DWP)
  • Publishing date:
    31 October 2023

About the study

In an exploration of changing public attitudes, the report uses responses to the British Social Attitudes (BSA) surveys conducted in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2022. This report delves into the evolving public opinion on government efforts to combat benefit fraud and error. The research aims to provide insights for future policy development, to assess communication strategies and strengthen DWP’s evidence base on fraud and error. Against the backdrop of significant societal changes, including Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and political transformations, the research captures shifts in public opinion during a period of significant upheaval. 


In general, the findings suggest most respondents thought benefit fraud was wrong. While this remains a majority response, this attitude has decreased over time and there is a growing tolerance towards benefit fraud.

  • In 2022, 53% of respondents believed it was wrong if an unemployed person on benefit took a casual job and was £500 in pocket, down from 68% in 2016.
  • Most respondents thought that the government were not doing enough to tackle fraud and that they were not likely to catch those committing fraud. In 2022, 61% of respondents had this view, compared with 54% in 2016, this trend was mixed over that time period.


Time series analysis based on BSA data. BSA was face-to-face until 2020 but due to the pandemic was adapted to a push-to-web survey for the subsequent years.