Benefit Fraud: The basics you need to know
One of our main areas of expertise is benefit law, and because of our in-depth knowledge, we understand how difficult it can be for people who aren’t legal professionals to understand it. By talking to us, you’ll have decades’ worth of experience at your fingertips, but it can still be useful to know a little information before you come to see us.
It could be that you’re unsure of what the term “benefit fraud” actually refers to, or it could be that you’ve received a letter claiming that you’re being investigated. Whatever your reason for landing on this page, don’t panic. This brief blog post will explain all the basics in easy-to-read terms, so that when you do get in touch with us, you’ll already have a better understanding of what your rights are.
What is Benefit Fraud?
Recently, the government has been attempting to crack down on rising benefit fraud figures, but this is a difficult task for officials given the breadth of charges that this encompasses. In a lot of cases, they are through entirely innocent actions too. Put simply, anyone who has deliberately failed to report a change in their circumstances, or who has been dishonest about information regarding their benefit claim is considered to have committed benefit fraud.
Of course, at Hylton-Potts, we understand how complicated the processes are, and it could be the case that you have failed to inform them by accident, such as when going through a period of emotional distress. It is also possible that you made an error on your form rather than being deliberately dishonest, in which case it is always important to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Aside from these two simplistic definitions though, there are a number of different types of benefit fraud. Some are a little more obvious that others, so this may help you to better understand any terms used in correspondence with officials.
First of all, a benefit claimant can commit fraud by failing to give any of the following information:
- Their correct household income
- Their correct savings or capital
- That a partner or another adult lives with them
- That they own other property or land
- That they have changed their main address
However, fraud can also be committed if you pretend to rent a property, but you actually own it. Or, if you’re in rented accommodation, attempting to deceive officials by claiming that your rent is more than the real figure is also classed as fraud. Landlords can also commit benefit fraud by failing to declare when tenants have vacated a property, but continuing to accept their benefit payments.
Finally, if you request that an employer signs a form declaring that you earn less than what you actually do, this is also classed as benefit fraud.
What are the penalties?
Understandably, a lot of queries we receive from people concern the penalties surrounding benefit fraud – particularly when a person is worried that there has been a mistake. This can cause a lot of stress and emotional upheaval, so it’s important to understand these areas as early on as possible if you are under investigation.
Penalties can include the following:
- Loss of benefits
- Repayment of overpaid benefit
- A fine
- A criminal record and possible prison sentence
- Confiscation of home and possessions
Of course all of this depends on the severity of the accusation, and our legal professionals will be able to tell you exactly what you’re facing if you get in touch with us as soon as possible, rather than ignoring the situation and allowing it to escalate.
Penalties are also dependent on the circumstances of the offence. For example, the ‘Two Strikes’ sanction means that if you are convicted of two different benefit fraud offences at the same time, entitlement to certain benefits can be reduced or withdrawn for a specific period.
Those benefits that can be reduced or withdrawn are known as ‘sanctionable’, and include Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit and Housing Benefit.
There are some circumstances though where benefits may be disqualified, and these include a Retirement Pension, Pension Credit, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Child Benefit.
However, there is currently a new system called Universal Credits which is being rolled out across the UK, and this is to replace the separate streams of benefits currently in existence. If your area is one of those which is already trialling the system, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a legal consultant so that you know if your benefits are sanctionable.
What happens after someone is reported for benefit fraud?
Firstly, the Fraud Investigation Service will investigate the person’s benefit claim if enough information has been provided. This could take some time, and no notification will be given to you of any action taken.
Then, the information within a benefit claim is given a routine check by the Department of Works and Pension (DWP) to ensure its accuracy. This involves comparing the information you provided, with records about held you by government agencies; local authorities will also be contacted for information about you before administering any benefits.
If the DWP’s enquiries find that the information from elsewhere does not match your benefit claim, authorised DWP Fraud Investigators may visit you at home or request that you attend an interview.
Can you appeal against a benefit fraud decision?
If you believe that a decision concerning your benefits is incorrect, you can ask the office that made the decision for an explanation, and even for it to be reconsidered or appealed against. However, some benefit fraud decisions cannot be appealed, such as those regarding Budgeting Loans, Community Care Grants or Crisis Loans.
You have one month after receiving a decision to request for it to be explained, reconsidered or appealed. You then have one month to start an appeal after getting a reconsidered decision, and how to go about this will be explained in the decision letter. Only under special circumstances can a late appeal be accepted, but no more than 13 months.
While it’s true that you must respond as quickly as possible to any accusation being made against you, it’s also important that you take time to understand exactly what you are being accused of, otherwise you won’t be able to make an informed action and could risk further implications.
This is why it’s always important to seek professional advice as possible. We can help advise you on the best course of action and which steps you should take next. We’ll even be able to prevent you from going through many painful elements of the process, such as undergoing an Investigation Under Caution which can be stressful and intimidating.
We hope that today’s post has eased some of your concerns, but also shown you that time really is of the essence here. If you’re being investigated for benefit fraud, don’t hesitate to get in touch as soon as possible. Call us on 020 7381 8111, or via email at [email protected].
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