Benefit fraud is investigated by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and/or Local Councils whenever there is suspicion that a benefit claim may be fraudulent. The 2 main types of Benefit fraud are where:
- someone in receipt of a benefit intentionally failed to report a change in their circumstances which they knew would affect their entitlement to benefits
- someone knowingly provided information that was not true to obtain benefits If you are suspected of benefit fraud you will be contacted by the agency that pays the relevant benefit.
You may be visited by Financial Investigation Officers, or be invited to attend an interview under caution. In some cases the benefit payments will cease whilst the investigation is conducted. You are entitled to take independent legal advice for the purpose of any interview under caution. Forgoing this right could have a significant impact on the outcome. It is unlikely that the investigating officers will tell an unrepresented suspect whether they have any real evidence before an interview gets underway. Some investigations may be based purely on anonymous and malicious reports. Others may be based on extensive surveillance, or it may be that the investigators have obtained evidence from a suspect’s employer, or bank. Only a lawyer experienced in this field will be able to identify cases in which choosing whether or not to co-operate with an investigation will benefit the suspect in achieving the best possible outcome.
If, following the investigation, the relevant authority believes that there is evidence that you have committed benefit fraud, one or more of the following may happen:
- you may be offered a Formal Caution
- you may be taken to Court
- you may be asked to pay an ‘Administrative Penalty’ as an alternative to going to Court
- your benefit may be reduced, or stopped
- you’ll be asked to pay back the overpaid benefit
If you are offered an alternative to being taken to Court, we can advise you of the implications of accepting/refusing such a disposal. If you are taken to Court we can provide you with representation.
If benefits are stopped, reduced, and/or you are required to pay monies back we will look to direct you to a Welfare Benefits Specialist to ensure that you take up your right to challenge such decisions, where appropriate (the relevant agencies do not always get their decisions right).
Serious cases of benefit fraud involving prolonged claims and significant amounts of money can attract prison sentences and Confiscation Proceedings. Less serious cases can still have a serious impact on an individual and/or their family through financial hardship caused by various sanctions, or the implications of ending up with a criminal record.
We will tell you if we think you would qualify for Legal Aid for Advice and Assistance during an investigation, or Representation in Court. If you do not qualify, we are able to tailor a suitable fixed fee package to limit the costs involved in seeking our help, even if you decide you just want to pay to come in to see an experienced lawyer for an hour to talk the matter through. If you are subject of an investigation, or are being taken to Court, contact Dan Bonich to discuss your situation.