Benefit fraud is a serious offence in which individuals deliberately provide false information or fail to report changes in their circumstances to claim benefits they are not entitled to. As benefit fraud solicitors in the North East, we understand the complexities surrounding such cases and the grave consequences they can have on your life by being falsely accused.

You could face criminal prosecution, hefty fines, and even imprisonment if found guilty of benefit fraud. This article aims to shed light on the different types of benefit fraud, how claims are investigated, and the potential repercussions, helping you navigate this sensitive issue with clarity.

 

What is Benefit Fraud?

You commit benefit fraud when you deliberately claim benefits that you are not entitled to. This can involve:

  1. Not reporting a change in your circumstances, such as:
    • A change in your living situation (someone moving in or out of your household)
    • A change in your income, savings, or capital
    • A change in your address
  2. Providing false information, such as:
    • Incorrect details about your household’s income, savings, or capital
    • Falsely declaring a disability or unfitness for work
    • Pretending to pay more rent than you actually do

Benefit fraud offences fall under various laws, including common law, the Fraud Act 2006, the Social Security Administration Act 1992, the Tax Credits Act 2002, and the Theft Act 1968. As a professional law firm in the North East, we at Teesside Law understand the complexities surrounding benefit fraud cases. If you find yourself in such a situation, we recommend getting in touch with us to explore how we can assist you with your case.

 

Types of Benefit Fraud

There are several types of benefit fraud that you should be aware of:

  • Working and Claiming:

    You commit benefit fraud if you are receiving housing/council tax benefit on the basis that you are entitled to jobseeker’s allowance/income support, but are in fact working. Failing to declare your earned income while claiming benefits is considered fraudulent.

  • Non-disclosure of Property, Capital or Income:

    Not disclosing all your income, savings, capital, or property so that the amount of benefit you receive is higher than it should be is a form of benefit fraud. This includes failing to report income from sources like earnings, tax credits, maintenance payments, pensions, or any other income.

  • Non-disclosure of Partner:

    Living together as partners (married, civil partners, or same-sex couples) while one partner is receiving housing and council tax benefit without disclosing the other partner’s presence is considered benefit fraud. If you have a partner who is working, and you do not declare this, you may be committing fraud as their income could affect your entitlement.

  • Non-declaration of Non-dependants or Sub-tenants:

    Not informing the authorities about other adults living in the property, such as non-dependants or sub-tenants, to keep or increase your benefit entitlement is fraudulent.

  • False Claims by Homeowners:

    Property owners falsely claiming housing benefit by stating they are paying rent for the property, inventing a fictitious landlord, and using false rent books and tenancy agreements is considered benefit fraud.

  • False Address or Failing to Declare a Change of Address:

    Claiming benefit for an address where you do not live or failing to inform the authorities about a change in address is fraudulent. These offences can involve landlords or other tenants when the claimant does not disclose they have moved out.

  • Landlord Fraud:

    Landlords continuing to receive benefits paid directly to them when they know the claimant has left the premises is considered landlord fraud, which is a form of benefit fraud.

 

How Benefit Claims Are Checked for Fraud

You’ll be contacted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Defence Business Services, or your local authority if you’re suspected of benefit fraud. Your benefit may be stopped while you’re investigated, and you’ll receive a letter informing you about this if it happens.

 

Interviews and Investigations

You may be visited by Fraud Investigation Officers (FIOs) or asked to attend an interview, known as an ‘interview under caution,’ to discuss your claim. FIOs will gather facts about your case and decide whether further action is necessary. An ‘interview under caution’ is a formal, often recorded interview that could become part of a criminal investigation against you. We recommend seeking advice from a legal adviser or solicitor, or obtaining help and information from Citizens Advice regarding these interviews.

 

Checking Claims

  1. When you make a benefit claim, you must provide proof of all the information you give, such as income and capital. This information is checked to ensure its accuracy and determine your benefit entitlement.
  2. Checks can occur at any time, not just when you initially make a claim. Sometimes, checks are conducted on everyone receiving a certain benefit or a particular group of claimants.
  3. At the beginning of your claim, benefits officers will make enquiries to verify the information you’ve provided. Your claim form details will be compared with records held by other government agencies and local authorities responsible for administering housing benefit and council tax support.
  4. You may be asked to provide supporting evidence, such as proof of income and capital.
  5. If the enquiries about you do not match the information on your claim, officers may visit or request you to attend an interview to discuss the matter.
  6. If benefit officers believe there may be serious fraud, fraud officers will investigate your claim in more detail. They may gather information about you and your family members, then compare it with the information already provided on claim forms or in interviews.
  7. Officers can contact private and public organisations that hold information about you, including banks, credit providers, insurance companies, education providers, utility companies, telecoms companies, the Student Loans Company, government agencies like HMRC, and overseas authorities.
  8. Officers can only make enquiries if they have reasonable grounds to believe you are committing fraud or assisting someone else in doing so.

 

Consequences of Benefit Fraud

If you are found guilty of committing benefit fraud, there can be severe consequences. Here are some potential outcomes you may face:

  • Repayment of Overpaid Money

You will be required to repay any benefits that were overpaid to you as a result of the fraud. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or the relevant authority will demand repayment of the full amount. If you fail to repay, they may take further action, such as deducting the amount from your wages or passing the case to debt collectors.

  • Penalties and Fines

Depending on the severity of the fraud, you may be asked to pay a penalty of £350 to £5,000 in addition to repaying the overpaid benefits. In some cases, an administrative penalty of 30% to 50% of the overpaid amount may be imposed as an alternative to prosecution.

  • Legal Action and Court

You may face criminal prosecution for benefit fraud, which could result in a fine or even a prison sentence. For serious cases of conspiracy to defraud, the maximum custodial sentence is 10 years. Less severe offences, such as making false representations to obtain benefits, can lead to penalties ranging from discharge to lower-level fines.

  • Benefit Reduction or Stoppage

Your current benefits may be reduced or stopped entirely for a period of up to three years as a punishment for the fraudulent activity. This sanction is known as a “loss of benefit penalty” and can have a significant impact on your financial situation.

 

Reporting Benefit Fraud

You can report someone you suspect of committing benefit fraud through various channels. Here are the details:

  • Reporting Online

You can report benefit fraud by completing the online form on the Department for Work and Pensions website: Report benefit fraud online (external link opens in a new window/tab).

  • Providing Information

When reporting, provide as much information as possible about the person, including:

  • Their name
  • Their address
  • The type of fraud you believe they are committing

You can make an anonymous report – you do not have to provide your name or contact details unless you want to.

  • Investigation Process

The Department for Work and Pensions Fraud and Error Service will review the information you provide. However, they will not disclose the outcome of their investigation to you. The Fraud and Error Service will only take action if they find evidence that the person has committed benefit fraud. 

Potential actions include removing the person’s benefits and pursuing legal action against them.

In some cases, no action may be taken if the person has declared a change in circumstances or if the reported information does not affect their benefit entitlement.

  • Reporting by Phone or Post

Alternatively, you can report benefit fraud by phone or post. Use the contact information provided on the government website.

  • Reporting in Northern Ireland

If you need to report someone living in Northern Ireland or committing fraud against benefits and payments made by the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, use the Northern Ireland Benefit Fraud Hotline.

  • Reporting War Pension or Armed Forces Compensation Scheme Fraud

To report benefit fraud related to the War Pension Scheme or Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, contact the Ministry of Defence Fraud Team.

 

Conclusion

In light of the given article on benefit fraud, it’s crucial to understand the gravity of this offence and its potential ramifications. Providing false information or failing to disclose changes in circumstances to claim benefits can result in serious consequences, including hefty fines, criminal prosecution, and even imprisonment. Benefit fraud not only deprives those genuinely in need but also undermines the integrity of the welfare system designed to support vulnerable individuals and families.

As a leading law firm in the North East, we at Teesside Law recognise the complexities surrounding benefit fraud cases and the importance of navigating them with utmost care and expertise. Our team of experienced professionals will guide you through the legal process, protecting your rights and advocating for the best possible outcome.

 

We hope you have found this article useful and informative, if you are looking for solicitors to represent you in your benefit fraud case, get in touch with our north east based solicitors today. 

 

Menu