Suspected of Benefit Fraud

If you get a letter asking you to go in for a meeting to discuss your benefit claim, or explaining that someone will be visiting you, it could be that you are suspected of committing benefit fraud.

Benefit fraud happens when someone claims a benefit they are not entitled to or continues to claim at the same rate even when their circumstances have changed. If this letter arrives in your post and you have no idea why it is there, it could be that someone has reported you on suspicion of benefit fraud and that you are now at the beginning process of being investigated.

It also could be that while the investigation happens your benefit is actually stopped, so if you receive such a letter you need to go to the interview or be available to be visited exactly as they say to avoid any prolonged periods without benefits.

How to avoid committing benefit fraud

Of course the obvious solution to use to avoid being investigated by the fraud departments of the various benefits is to make sure that you report every change of benefits as they happen. The sort of things you need to report have different effects on your benefits some will mean you get more benefits, some less and some may mean they stop altogether.

Changes you need to report include moving house, changing contact details such as telephone number and email address and changes to employment. If you become eligible for a disability benefit you must let the other benefits agencies know, the same as if you start caring for someone with a disability or health issue. If you come into a large sum of money, perhaps through inheritance or winning a prize that also must be reported, the same as if your wages go up, or you get bonuses or paid overtime.

If you become the owner of a property you must also report this whether it is in this country or abroad and if your savings become high you must report this as well.

During a benefit fraud investigation

When you attend your interview either at your home or in a benefit office, you will be expected to bring proof of all of your information. This will include employment/self-employment information such as pay slips or accounts, bank and savings account statement, proof of address and contact details.

If you have other information and do not provide it, the investigation people will find it out and will use it as further evidence that you are committing fraud. If you have reported everything and someone has just reported you as a malicious hoax you will be able to exonerate yourself and the investigation will end with your interview.

The Benefit Fraud Investigation Team is aware that this happens and is kind to people in this circumstance. It is not a nice experience, but at least in this scenario you walk away from the interview knowing the case is closed.

If the investigation finds you guilty

If you are found to be guilty of committing benefit fraud there are all kinds of things that may happen to you, depending on the circumstances. The very least that will happen is that you will be expected to pay the benefit that you have had illegally back, the worst that you will be prosecuted and even serve time in prison.

The government have a scheme in place for benefit fraud cases to determine whether you will still get the benefit you are entitled to if you have been found guilty of committing fraud. The system operates on a 2 strike rule over the course of 5 years.

First offences in a 5 year period may mean that you can have your benefit completely stopped for a period of four weeks, but then you will get it back minus any amount they are deducting to pay back the over payment. If you hit 2 strikes in a 5 year period however, it is possible for your benefit to be either reduced or withdrawn for a much longer period.

It may seem like a good idea to try to get more money than you are entitled to but in the long run it can prove expensive. You can have your benefit stopped or reduced, have to pay a fine or risk imprisonment and you will still have to pay back the amount of money you received illegally!

The benefits that come under the 2 strike rule as ones that can be stopped or made smaller are known as sanctionable benefits. This means that these benefits can have penalties imposed upon them. Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Pension Credit are amongst the ones that can be sanctioned but there are others as well.

There are some benefits that cannot be sanctioned but if you commit fraud against these benefits, your other benefits can be sanctioned on their behalf. Again the list is not conclusive but some of these kinds of benefits include Attendance Allowance, Child Benefit, Disability Living Allowance and Retirement Pension.

There are even some benefits such as all of the tax credit benefits and the Sick Pay kind of benefits that cannot be sanctioned at all, but do not be deceived in thinking that makes these a better option to claim fraudulently. You may not lose your entitlement to the benefit, but you still will have to pay back the overpayment and risk being fined or imprisoned.

If you are unsure about anything to do with benefits or fraud

The best thing to do in this situation is to contact your local benefit office to get advice. If you have a letter, are not sure about reporting a change of circumstance or have any other questions to do with this issue, your local benefit office or Jobseekers Plus will be the best place to get all of your questions answered.

If you are going to be prosecuted and you need to get legal advice you should contact someone who has experience in this situation. As with any crime you are entitled to legal representation so have a look around to find the best solicitor or legal advisor you can afford. Certain people may be entitled to legal aid if their financial situation warrants it, but you do need to be represented in court when the case goes before the judge.

There is a directory available called the Community Legal Service (CLS)which includes the information about all solicitors and legal advisors in England and Wales that are established as being reputable.

You also have the right to appeal if you feel that your benefits have been stopped without due cause, in the first instance you would contact the relevant department and ask them to have another look at your case. If this does not give you the response you require you then have 1 month to begin the appeal process in which your case will be looked at in great detail by an independent panel that is not associated in any way with the benefit agency in question.