With an increasingly ageing population and government budgets quickly tightening, pension programs can struggle to meet their financial commitments. Allegations of fraud have increased alongside this and can occur simply when individuals fail to report information such as address changes, or even when a beneficiary is deceased and a relative continues to collect their benefit.
UK pension law is notoriously complex and ambiguity exists around when it is breached. Keith J Tuck is one of the premier fraud defence lawyers in Scotland, and has developed a highly successful practice of defending clients facing allegations of pension fraud. Keith J Tuck can assist with various areas of fraud, including mortgage fraud, internet fraud and HMRC tax investigations. If you need to entrust your case to a lawyer that understands what is at stake, contact Keith J Tuck today.
How common is pension fraud?
With nearly 12 million pensioners in the UK, plus 7.5 million workplace pensions being paid, the scope for pension fraud is huge. This is because most pension schemes require members to confirm in writing only once a year that they are still alive.
According to one survey of private pension schemes, one in 100 spouses, partners, close relations or friends fail to inform pension schemes when members die. As a result there are around 110,000 people in the UK are claiming pensions for relatives who are deceased. Consequently, the sum overpaid could exceed £200 million a year in false pension claims. In most cases, overpayments are made for only a few months, but some false claims last years.
What is pension fraud?
The most common form of pension fraud involves forging the signature on the "certificate of existence" and causing the money to continue to be paid. Usually, carers or family members have been given access to another person’s bank account or pension book to collect the money on their behalf.
Another potential form of pension fraud can arise where a person claims either income support or pension credit. There are different calculations that apply as to how much capital you can have. While a person may not have been committing a criminal act if he genuinely made an error, that person is under a duty to tell the Department for Work and Pensions of the situation. Otherwise, he or she does run a risk of prosecution. If this is not noticed during that person’s life, the DWP will see information on the estate he leaves and reclaim any overpayment via the executor – most likely the family of the deceased.
It is important for pension schemes to conduct pensioner existence checks on a regular basis. If overpayments have been paid, whether a fraud has been committed or not, pension schemes should take advice on recouping overpayments and dealing with any fraudulent claims. It is not only the person who claims the benefit who can be prosecuted for benefit fraud. Your employer, partner or landlord could be prosecuted for making a statement or giving information to a benefit office which they know to be false.
It must be remembered that not all overpayments are a result of deliberate fraud. For example, dealing affairs of deceased relatives entails dealing with banks, insurance companies and other financial firms. This can take many weeks or even months, with pension or other payments being paid throughout these delays.
The Consequences of Pension Fraud
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is responsible for carrying out the investigation. Fraud investigations are carried out by officers in the Fraud Investigation Service.
Fraud investigators may ask you to an informal interview if they want to find out if there are grounds to suspect a person of pension fraud. It is important to be aware that information you give at an informal interview may be used later to make an allegation of benefit fraud against you. However, if the fraud investigators already think you have committed a benefit offence they are more likely to interview you under caution.
If there’s evidence you’ve committed fraud, you’ll be told to pay back the overpaid money. One or more of the following may also happen: you may be taken to court or asked to pay a penalty (between £350 and £5,000); your benefits may be reduced or stopped; a prison sentence may be imposed in some cases.
Your benefits can be reduced or stopped for up to 3 years if you’re convicted of benefit fraud. It is to be noted that State Pension is not a sanctionable benefit.
Facing the prospect of an interview or investigation can make people very anxious, and cause them to be confused on what the substance of the breach they are alleged to have made is. It is important that if you are suspected of having been involved in pension fraud or are facing an investigation by the DWP, you instruct a defence lawyer that knows how to respond quickly and effectively with a view to protecting you from potentially harmful scrutiny. At Keith J Tuck we routinely work with clients in cases of alleged pension fraud, managing their engagement with the DWP and guarding their interests carefully. If you want to work with a legal team that will act quickly to respond to allegations of wrong doing in a way that protects your interests, contact us today.
Contact Our Pension Fraud Solicitors in Glasgow, Scotland
If you have been accused of pension fraud or are facing an investigation and need to speak to a lawyer, contact the pension fraud defence team at Keith J Tuck Solicitors today by calling 0141 413 8586, or via our online contact form.