Benefit fraud is a very common occurrence across the UK and costs the Government millions. It is hardly surprising then that cases of this type are treated very seriously indeed and when the sums involved are considerable, often running into thousands, the courts often sentence offenders to a term of imprisonment.
Put simply, benefit fraud occurs when an individual claims benefits, for himself or for others, that they are not entitled to. The are two recognised types of offence covering the many benefits available, one involving obvious dishonesty, the other absent of recognised dishonesty.
Types of Benefit Fraud
Benefit fraud can come in many forms. It may be that an individual has not reported a change in their circumstances which may affect their entitlement, or that they have given false information about themselves or another in order to receive payments. Common types of benefit fraud include not declaring the following information:
- You have started working, or working longer hours
- You have a partner living with you
- You have savings or investments
- A change of address
- You receive a student loan
- You receive a pension
- You own property
- You have other adults living at the property
What happens if you are suspected of benefit fraud?
If you are suspected of committing benefit fraud, you are likely to be contacted by your local authority, the DWP or possibly HMRC. In this case, you can either be invited in to attend the offices for an initial discussion to discuss any concerns, or in cases considered more obvious or serious, you will be invited in for a formal interview under caution. It is absolutely essential at that point you consult a solicitor to help protect your legal interests. Benefit fraud allegations can be something of a minefield and can be very complex in nature.
Interviews under caution
Interviews by the benefit agency can be lengthy and very document heavy, meaning that you will likely be asked questions about a lot of information presented to you in interview and with little preparation to respond. Without the benefit of legal advice and assistance, a person in interview who is not represented and who has not had the benefit of discussing the nature and extent of the allegations in advance will likely struggle, and may say things they don’t mean simply due to the pressures of the situation. We are very familiar with the legislation covering investigations of this type and represent clients under suspected of such matters almost daily.
The investigation & possible outcomes
During any investigation your benefits may be stopped until the investigation is complete. If this is the case, you should be notified. The investigation may involve a visit from a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO), and/or you may also be asked to attend an interview under caution.
There are a few possible outcomes following an investigation.
- Hopefully, the investigation will uncover no wrong doing and no further action will be taken and benefits will re-commence (if they were suspended).
- If an overpayment of any kind has been identified, you may simply be asked to pay it back with no additional formal action being taken.
- If obvious wrongdoing is identified, you may be prosecuted for benefit fraud and have to go to court.
- Your benefits may be reduced or stopped completely – should you be found to have committed benefit fraud, your benefits may be reduced or stopped for up to three years. However, only some benefits can be reduced or stopped. These benefits are known as “sanctionable benefits” and include the following:
- Carer’s Allowance
- Carer’s Allowance
- Employment and Support Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Incapacity Benefit
- Income Support
- Industrial Death Benefit
- Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
- Industrial Injuries Reduced Earnings Allowance
- Industrial Injuries Retirement Allowance
- Industrial Injuries Unemployability Supplement
- Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- Pension Credit
- Universal Credit
- War Disablement Pension
- War Widow’s Pension
- War Pension Unemployability Supplement
- War Pension Allowance for Lower Standard of Occupation
- Widowed Mother’s/Parent’s Allowance
- Widow’s Pension/Bereavement Allowance
- Working Tax Credit
Benefits that cannot be reduced or stopped include the following:
- Attendance Allowance
- Bereavement Payment
- Bereavement Support Payment
- Child Benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Christmas Bonus
- Disability Living Allowance
- Graduated Retirement Benefit
- Guardian’s Allowance
- Industrial Injuries Constant Attendance Allowance (where a Disablement Pension is payable)
- Industrial Injuries Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance (where a Disablement Pension is payable)
- Personal Independence Payment
- State Pension
- Social Fund Payments
- War Pension Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance
- War Pension Mobility Supplement
Being prosecuted – having to attend court
If you are charged with benefit fraud, you will make your first appearance in the Magistrates Court. It is essential you have a solicitor. Cases of this type are often complex both factually and legally and there may be defences available to you that need to be fully considered.
Representation by a solicitor can very often be covered by Legal Aid, which is assessed based on your financial circumstances. Depending on the amount of money that was obtained, your case may be sent to the Crown Court. If you are convicted, you can be sentenced to a fine or, in serious cases, a custodial sentence. A conviction will also result in a criminal record.
Challenging an overpayment
Unfortunately, the benefits agency and its investigators often point the finger of suspicion wrongly and thorough investigations uncover the fact that overpayments have been made in error and through no fault of the person receiving the benefit(s). You may be one of the many in this position and so having a solicitor on your side to make representations on your behalf is essential. Government departments dealing with the eligibility for and payment of benefits do make mistakes, and you should not allow their mistake to be a problem for you.
Defending benefit fraud allegations
There are many ways that an allegation of fraud can be responded to. Most cases where a challenge is made relate to one or more of the following:
- You haven’t been dishonest
- You genuinely provided what you felt was accurate information
- You did your best to complete the forms provided to you and so anything which is considered misleading wasn’t done intentionally
- The benefits agency has made a mistake and has the wrong person
- Whoever told the benefits agency that you were receiving payments wrongly is wrong and had made it up
- The benefits agency has its facts wrong
- You genuinely believed that you, or another, was entitled to the money received
- You didn’t notice the overpayment until the benefits agency pointed it out
Why call us?
You should call us for a free telephone consultation if:
- You are worried about having committed benefit fraud
- You have been asked to attend the benefits office for an informal meeting
- You have been invited to attend the benefits office for an interview under caution
- You have already been interviewed and you are worried about being prosecuted
- You have been charged with benefit fraud and you have to go to court
For more information or to discuss your case with a specialist defence lawyer, please contact us in London (West Drayton) on 01895 449288 or in Hertfordshire (St Albans) on 01727 840900 or by email via our contact page.