Benefit fraud is a criminal offence, and any allegations of benefit fraud are investigated thoroughly. The consequences of committing such a crime are potentially very serious; from your benefits stopping to imprisonment. This article will focus on five common questions related to a benefit fraud investigation, including:
If you would like to discuss your circumstances with a criminal defence solicitor, get in touch via the online contact form here.
You could be investigated for benefit fraud if you fail to report a change in your circumstances which would impact your benefits, or you provide false information.
In order to prove that you have committed benefit fraud, there must be evidence that you deliberately withheld information or knowingly gave incorrect details. It is therefore unlikely that an offence of benefit fraud has been committed if your actions were unintentional.
While the investigation is ongoing, the benefits that you receive may be stopped. As such, you must notify the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of any changes as soon as possible to avoid investigation and any interruptions to your benefits.
Many people are unaware they are being investigated for benefit fraud, particularly in the early stages. It is not always clear that an investigation is happening until you are notified by post, telephone or email.
If you receive notice from the DWP, HMRC, Social Security Scotland or your local authority, then it is reasonable to assume that initial investigations have already been carried out. This could include the following:
You should instruct the help of a legal professional as soon as you learn that you are being investigated for benefit fraud to ensure that you have a robust defence strategy in place.
An interview invitation can be one of the first indications that you are being investigated for benefit fraud. This interview will be conducted by fraud investigation officers and is usually called an ‘interview under caution’.
Similar to a police interview, a benefit fraud interview will be recorded, and you will be allowed to have a solicitor present. The interview is a formal process, with anything you say being added to the case. As such, it is always recommended to obtain legal advice in advance of the interview.
There are a number of possible outcomes once the investigation is completed, such as:
When a report is sent to the Procurator Fiscal, they will decide whether or not to proceed with a criminal case against you. If they decide to prosecute, you will be sent a document called the ‘complaint’, which details what you have been accused of.
Benefit fraud cases are treated very seriously by the courts and, if you are convicted of the crime, you could face imprisonment. The outcome and possible sentence will be dependent on various factors in your case, including previous convictions (especially those linked to crimes of dishonesty), how much you were overpaid, and the nature of the offence (for example, if the documents were forged).
Your benefits can be stopped or reduced if you have committed benefit fraud. This is typically referred to as a ‘sanction’. This can only happen to certain benefits, including:
It’s important to note that there are benefits that cannot be reduced or stopped due to a benefit fraud offence, such as child benefits and statutory sick pay. You can see the full list of benefits that are exempt here.
If you have been accused of benefit fraud or believe that you are being investigated by the DWP, do not hesitate to get in touch with the benefit fraud defence team at Keith J Tuck Solicitors on 0141 336 2020 or complete our online enquiry form.