Benefit fraud: A step-by-step guide of what to expect
Recently, we’ve provided you with plenty of blog posts regarding the current developments within the benefits system. We’ve looked at the ever-growing debates surrounding Universal Credits, the nightmares that many members of the public are having due to Concentrix, and a few case studies that highlight how easy it is to get caught up in a benefit fraud scandal.
At Hylton-Potts, we believe that giving people as much information as possible is the best way to help them avoid being investigated for benefit fraud. Whether you’ve made a simple error or just didn’t know what you were doing was against the law, education is the best way of avoiding that unnecessary pain and stress that having your benefits cut can bring.
In today’s post, we’re giving you a quick, step-by-step guide on the types of benefit fraud there are, how they’re investigated, and what you can do if you suddenly find yourself in this situation.
What is benefit fraud?
Although this system might seem complicated, there are essentially two ways that you can be charged with benefit fraud:
- You intentionally do not report a change in your circumstances, or
- You are dishonest in order to receive benefits
After being thoroughly investigated, if there’s evidence you have committed fraud, you’ll be instructed by the courts to pay back the overpaid money. However, depending on the severity of the crime and the type of benefit you have been receiving illegally, you may also be asked to pay a penalty, which can be anywhere between £350 and £5,000. You may also have your benefits reduced or stopped for up to three years, however, the amount of time they’re stopped for depends upon how many times you’ve committed fraud.
Not all benefits can be reduced or stopped though, so it’s worth understanding what these are. They include:
- Attendance Allowance
- Bereavement Payment
- Child Benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Council Tax Benefit
- Disability Living Allowance
- Graduated Retirement Benefit
- State Pension
- Social Fund Payments
- War Pension Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance
- War Pension Mobility Supplement
For a full list of these benefits, and the exceptions to the rule, click here. However, note that if you are prosecuted for committing fraud on a benefit that can’t be reduced or stopped, your other benefits can be reduced instead.
Once a government official or even another member of the public reports you for committing benefit fraud, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will investigate the claim. Initially, you’ll be contacted by either the DWP, HM Revenue and Customs, the Service and Personnel and Veterans Agency or your local authority if you’re suspected of fraud.
They can use a variety of powers to investigate you as thoroughly as need be, and you may even have your benefits suspended during this period. You should always be kept up to date if you are found to have done anything wrong, although frustratingly, if you are found to be innocent, they may never contact you again and you may have to seek out this information yourself.
There are many ways in which they can gather evidence against you; they have the authority to look through all your private accounts, from banking records to what you write on your social media. Recently, one lady was caught out as a benefit cheat when investigators checked her Facebook page.
Lisa Oakley had fraudulently received more than £19,000 from Newport council in housing and council tax benefits for over three years. In 2010 when she needed to fill out a new form, she did not declare that she was living with her partner, Michael Shutt. However, investigators quickly discovered evidence that the couple were living together.
The authorities investigated the couple’s bank records, insurance and phone providers, interviewed the pair (where they denied they were together) and finally checked their Facebook accounts, which contained many posts of photographs of the pair together.
Other methods used to detect benefit fraud can include matching their records against those held by other Council departments, Local Authorities and Government departments, carrying out visits to benefit claimants in their homes to check their circumstances are up to date, and professionally trained investigators can legally request information from employers, pension providers, utility companies, financial institutions and so on.
One of the most common investigative practices is to be invited by Fraud Investigation Officers (FIOs) to attend an ‘interview under caution’ to talk about your claim. These are often very highly pressured situations, with many people telling tales of how they were almost bullied into admitting fault. These are skilled officers, and it is their job to push you as much as they feel is necessary, which can often lead to very distressing circumstances for the claimant.
How we can help
There are a variety of ways in which we can help you if you’re being investigated for benefit fraud. Firstly, we will never allow you to attend an interview under caution; these are by no means compulsory, but claimants who just want to do the right thing are often misled into believing that this is the case.
Instead, we help you to put together a statement either by phone and email, which contains documents that support your case, to avoid an arrest or a stressful tape-recorded interview by the Fraud Enquiry Office or even the police. At Hylton-Potts, we will guide you through the process step by step, and won’t allow you to be pressured into any decisions without our professionals by your side.
If you’re being investigated for benefit fraud, or you think you may have made a simple error that could land you in hot water, the best thing you can do is to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Our legal consultants are always on hand to give you the guidance you need, and you can call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at [email protected].
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