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Checking Benefit Claims for Fraud

Fraudulent claims for benefits may be subject to criminal prosecutions.

The most important asset in the whole benefit industry is information. When you submit a claim for any kind of benefit you have to provide a huge amount of information, if you apply for several benefits this information will be held in many different places. This information is called data and there are laws that protect what this information can be used to, for example someone in a benefit office cannot use your information for personal use, or give it to someone who is in no way connected to either the benefit or legal departments.

Who holds your information

This information can be shared with other departments for the purposes of checking if you are committing fraud however. The information that is held by all kinds of other organisations can also be accessed if you are under suspicion of fraud by people that would otherwise be denied access to it.

Organisations investigating fraud can obtain additional information about you from all kinds of places, some you would never think of. Obvious ones are places such as banks and building societies, credit card companies, money transmission companies and credit reference agencies.

Did you also realise that they can also access your data at schools, colleges and universities? That your service provider companies such as gas, electric, water, telephone, television, broadband and mobile phone data can also be accessed up to and including looking into all of your telephone calls? You know about the other benefit agencies but even the HMRC (Her Majesties Revenue and Customs) and the student loans company if you ever had a student loan are also obliged to provide full information if requested.

They can even contact the authorities in other countries if they have reason to believe that there is cause for concern in that country. For all of these sources of data, they are only allowed to request access to your information if they are absolutely sure that you are involved in Benefit Fraud either personally or helping someone else to be so involved.

Your rights to your data

Having said all of this you also have rights regarding your data including the right to know exactly what data is being stored about you by all of this information. If one of the agencies refuses you access to your information you can get help by contacting the Information Commission who are charged to uphold the individual’s rights concerning data control. Their telephone lines are open from Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, although this does not include bank holidays. Call them on 01625 545 745 to obtain any information about your data that you need.

Cross agency checking

To eliminate the huge amount of benefit fraud that happens in the UK and the wasted pounds that are being lost by the government each year, benefit agencies are allowed to check and double check your claim whenever they deem necessary. They do not only check the claim in their department when they do these checks, but they also compare information with other departments to see if there are any discrepancies there.

When you first submit your claim you know that it is going to be checked by the benefit department, but even if you are granted the benefit indefinitely they can still decide to check your claim 8 months or so later and make you go through the whole claiming process again to see if the information on the two claims matches.

This could be something like the department responsible for Disability Living Allowance doing a fraud check on your claim only a few months after telling you that you were entitled to it for life. Or the Housing Benefit people checking with the Income Tax people to see if both of their records about your income match up, it is a regular occurrence that checks are made across government departments.

Personal Information

One of the best ways to ensure that you are not investigated for a fraudulent benefit claim is to make sure that all of your information is up to date with all departments. Make a kind of portfolio with all the information that you use for your claims, for example, the obvious personal details like name, age, date of birth, address and so on, but also note down your National Insurance Number if you know it.

If you do not have a National Insurance Number or you have lost the one you had you can get a new one by telephoning the National Insurance Registrations Helpline on 0845 915 7006 between 8.30am and 5.00pm Monday to Friday. Once you have this you need to make a note of it with all of your other information, somewhere safe where it cannot be accessed by anyone else. With this you need to keep all of the other information that is relevant to all of your claims individually or combined.

For example if you are claiming Disability Living Allowance you need to keep a record of your conditions, all the medications you take, all the reports from the medical profession and all the information about any care packages you get. You also need to keep up to date information about how your claim affects your life on a day to day basis so that you can see if there is anything that has either improved or deteriorated.

If you are also claiming Housing and Council Tax benefit, you need to keep all of your financial information to hand as well, such as bank account numbers, bank addresses and any employment details you have. Having all of this information accessible and updating it every time something changes will leave you less likely to accidentally commit benefit fraud!

Problems with your claim

If the original check of your claim brings up some discrepancies you will probably receive a letter telling you that you need to attend an interview either at home or in the offices of the Benefit Fraud team. Sometimes this can be at the actual benefit offices. If you receive this letter and honestly have no idea why it has arrived, it can be a good idea to ring the number on the letter and have a chat with the benefit officer in question. They are trying to get to the bottom of the matter but they do understand that mistakes can be made and that people can report suspected fraud out of maliciousness rather than with any real proof that fraud is happening.

If you call the department, they probably will need to discuss the matter in question with you face to face but they will also be able to tell you which evidence you need to bring in with you at the interview. If the evidence is compelling that you are committing fraud then your benefit may be stopped while they investigate the case. The quicker you can get information to them that will prove your innocence the quicker your benefit will be issued to you again.

If you need impartial advice about providing evidence or about the investigations into your eligibility for benefits, you can get advice at your local benefit office, the Jobcentre Plus or the Citizens Advice Bureau.