Benefit Fraud Crackdown Heats Up

Despite the recent scandal in which it was revealed that the government’s hard-line stance on benefits claimants has resulted in more than ten thousand unnecessary deaths, the crackdown still continues.

The main targets of the crackdown are those who deliberately commit fraud by claiming money to which they are not entitled to through the use of deception or through the deliberate concealment of information. As is always the case, many innocent people are also caught out by the detection procedures, and tragically some of them are even prosecuted and wrongfully convicted.

Wrongful conviction can occur when a person is innocent of a crime but does not understand the law sufficiently well to be aware of their innocence. In such cases they may be persuaded of their guilt, or tricked into a false confession, which is later used against them in court.

It is a huge mistake to think that all fraud investigators, police, and prosecutors are above the level of manufacturing testimony, badgering witnesses, or deceiving people into false confessions. There will always be a danger of this for as long as performance is measured by how many people can be locked away rather than how well the law is upheld.

That’s not surprising because it’s much easier to count how many people are locked up. What is beyond dispute is that once having been convicted of a crime; your life would never be the same again. Many things that are simple matters for others will suddenly become very complex matters for you.

This is why anyone facing the prospect of criminal charges, or who has already been charged with a crime, should not contribute in any way to their own conviction. A qualified legal representative is essential in such circumstances, and should never be regarded as unnecessary.

Your policy should always be to refuse to say anything until you have spoken with a legal consultant. You can not hope to clear your name by co-operating, because the moment you open your mouth, evidence begins being collected against you. That is the case because nobody on that side of the legal process has any interest in seeing you go free after they have invested time and resources to try to put you away.

As disgusting as this kind of unofficial policy is, it is disturbingly often a reality and it is certainly no joke if you find yourself on the receiving end of it.

How the Government plans to Crackdown on Benefit Fraud

Catching fraudsters is a serious business, and the government has invested many millions of pounds in the hopes of creating a deterrent. That word is significant. Recovering lost money or reducing wasteful expenditure is secondary to the deterrent factor that the government hopes to create. That is why the entire wording in their advertising on the matter takes such a threatening tone.

Now that they have recruited thousands of investigators and spent so much money on the process, they are keen to see a return on investment. The most tangible way to measure that return is in the number of people punished for fraud. So, for that reason, we can expect to see more and more people being investigated and perhaps prosecuted in the months ahead.

Most fraud these days is detected either through a process known as data-matching, or as a result of somebody reporting a suspicion to the authorities.

When you make a claim for benefits, the information you provide in support of your claim is checked against information held in several government databases, and sometimes also manually verified. You would expect all this to be a very fast process and virtually fool proof, but it seems that in reality it is not, which is why the fraud problem exists in the first place.

This is just the very first step in a number of subsequent data-matching efforts, however, and whatever information you provide to DWP or other relevant authorities will potentially be checked. If any of the information is believed to be false, there is a very high chance that you will be accused of fraud.

Credit Reference Agencies – A wealth of data beyond a simple credit score!

One of the methods investigators use is to check with credit reference agencies. These agencies may hold a surprising amount of information about you. Nonetheless, the information they hold about you may be incorrect and if it is, there is a chance that you could be wrongly accused of fraud, when in fact it is a case of bad data.

Can you continue to Claim Benefits after ‘inheriting’ in excess of £16’000?

Then there are situations like the woman who claimed benefits after inheriting £39,000. According to the judge, the law is “really clear” that you have to report any savings over £16,000. Therefore the court found her guilty of fraud, despite her not guilty plea. While there is no way to ever be 100% certain, I believe quite strongly that if she had been our client, the court would have found differently.

This is going to be the kind of case that will start emerging more frequently, because data-matching systems are getting more sophisticated and some people who have avoided detection up to now may be caught years after they received money that they should not have received.

It is a concern any time that authorities describe a law as “really clear”, because there is nearly always some ambiguity and potential for confusion. Even judges sometimes misunderstand the intentions of some laws, so to expect laypersons to interpret all the laws with perfect clarity is pretty unreasonable.

There are many circumstances where a person could fail to make an appropriate notification to authorities where it is not fraud. Remember, fraud is not just a matter of providing false information or failing to provide information that you are supposed to provide, it is a matter of intentional deception.

Some of the many reasons why a person may fail to report a circumstance they are required to report include:

  • Not being aware of the change of circumstance, for example if a person inherited money but never actually knew that they had inherited it.
  • Language difficulties, which could also include literacy problems, so even if a document is translated into another language, it does not necessarily mean that it will be understood.
  • Disability, illness, or being incapacitated. Any of these conditions could prevent a person from being able to make the proper notifications.
  • Being a victim of crime or fraud themselves. Sometimes people are unable to fulfil their obligations due to being victims of crime. Other situations could include something like identity theft, where somebody has applied for benefits in the name of the victim, who is then subsequently accused of fraud.

Those are just a few examples, but there are potentially many more. Judges need to be careful not to fall into the trap of believing themselves to be omniscient. They need to be willing to listen to all sides of an issue, without bias, before forming any conclusions.

But then there are cases such as this one, where there does not seem to be any excuse available. It is not hard to see why a guilty plea was entered, and this may have played a role in the particularly lenient sentence that was given.

Claiming Benefits after gifting some or all of your £16’000+ inheritance

Then, finally, there are situations where people receive large sums of money—from inheritances, for example—but give some of the money to other people. The law sometimes does not recognise gifting, and can punish you. There is an example of such a case reported on the Blaby District Council website, where the court accepted that she had given away some of the money but “it was still deemed to be hers”.

There is something fundamentally wrong when a court can rule that you have money that you don’t actually have after legitimately giving it away (as opposed to, for example, giving to your spouse who lives in the same house with you).

I can think of at least five ways that this case could have been resolved with a finding of not guilty. The problem is in the way that everyone, including the lady who was convicted, was thinking about the sum of money in question. This is why anyone facing such charges should call a legal consultant right away.

If you are accused of fraud, Hylton-Potts can help. We have years of experience in resolving fraud cases in favour of our clients, and we have an excellent record of positive results.

All you need to do is give us a call on 020 7381 8111 or send an email to [email protected] and let us know what has happened. We will then take all of the necessary steps to help you out of this difficult situation.

If you have any thoughts on anything we’ve discussed in this blog post, or maybe you or somebody you know found themselves in a similar position after unexpectedly receiving some money from an inheritance or other legitimate source. We’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences of these situations.