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If you or someone you care about is involved in a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) investigation, one of the first things you likely want to know is: ‘When will this all be over?’ DWP investigations are stressful both for the person or persons being investigated, and for their close family or friends, who might be implicated in any alleged wrongdoing (a partner staying over more nights a week than they should, a parent who has given or lent their child sums of money, and so on). In the remainder of this article, we shed light on several aspects of the DWP investigation process – all of which can affect how long a DWP investigation takes – and give you an estimate of the time it takes so that you can be well-informed every step of the way.
The DWP conducts investigations into those who it considers may be committing a form of benefit fraud. Investigations may arise from DWP’s own data analysis or intelligence, or they may arise following a report from a third party.
Benefit fraud is the act of claiming benefits to which a person is not entitled on purpose. Common acts of benefit fraud include someone:
To identify fraud, the important factor is that someone is receiving a benefit (a payment or a tax break, for example) that they would not ordinarily be entitled to.
The first stage in any benefits fraud investigation process is notification. This means you will be contacted by the relevant agency.
With DWP investigations, the agency is likely the DWP, but it could be HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Service and Personnel and Veterans Agency, or your local authority depending on the benefit concerned and the urgency of the case.
There is no standard mode of contact as much depends on the processes for the agency concerned and the information they have on file for you. You will not receive a telephone call if the agency does not have a number for you, for example. In the event that the agency reaches out but gets no response, they may try several times by several different modes of communication. The most common are telephone and receiving a letter through the post.
Unfortunately, little information is available about exactly when you are contacted and how much time the DWP has investigated before contacting you.
It is common for the DWP to stop paying out benefits when an investigation is underway. The rationale for this is that they want to minimise the amount of loss for the government if the person accused is actually committing benefit fraud.
Whether the DWP withholds the whole range of your benefits or only some of them depends largely on the situation, including on the severity of the fraud alleged. If you have been notified of an investigation being carried out, the best thing to do is to start planning for alternative financial support as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, even if there is evidence of a malicious report against you being made, there is little you can do to reinstate your benefits during the investigation. It is reassuring to know, however, that charities exist to help people in this situation and there are emergency measures that can be taken to provide for vulnerable adults or children.
Usually, no. Many people report benefit fraud anonymously, and in any case the agency will protect the identity of the person reporting in case there is any risk to them in the form of retaliation. The only way most people find out who reported them is by being told by someone other than the agency (a friend or family member who knows, for example).
If you do find out who reported you, it is important not to confront them about it. That person may have even reported you maliciously – trying to get you in trouble when you haven’t done anything wrong – but even if this is the case, you must keep your distance from them. Any intimation or confrontation could be reported to the police and lead to criminal charges.
Yes, they might do. Benefit investigators have a number of means of investigation at their disposal, which includes being able to watch someone’s house. They might be waiting outside in a parked car and typically they watch to see who is coming in and out of the house and what condition they appear to be in.
If, for example, you have declared that it is only you living at the house but there appears to be a romantic partner staying multiple nights a week, that may be taken as evidence in any case against you. Similarly, if you are claiming disability benefits because of a serious physical impairment that prevents you working, but appear to be able bodied and attending work on a regular basis, this again will be taken in evidence against you.
There is no set number of times the investigator will visit you, nor a set period of time in which those visits must be conducted.
Part of what takes time in a benefits investigation process is the scheduling, arranging, and conducting of interviews. These are called ‘interviews under caution’ because technically you are under a police caution throughout.
The purpose of the interview is for a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO) to hear you talk about your claim and justify why it is that you require such a benefit. The FIO may ask you a number of questions, many of which are going to be personal.
As uncomfortable and intrusive as this may be, it is important to answer questions as fully as you can, and to be honest. Answer to the best of your ability and do not be afraid to ask for clarification or repetition of a question if you do not understand.
And remember, the FIOs are not there to trick you or trap you. They are simply doing their jobs and trying to get an understanding of your situation so that they can assess the claim as fairly as possible having all sides of the story.
Once the interview is complete, you will be allowed to return home (or carry on as usual if the interview was conducted at your house). The FIO may give you specific information about what will happen next in your case, but if they do not, know that they may continue to investigate facts, interview people, and watch your house or workplace until they have enough evidence (or lack thereof) to make a decision.
Once the investigation itself is complete, a number of things may happen. You will be notified of the outcome by post or by telephone. If you have been found to have committed or attempted fraud, various consequences could follow:
If the investigation found you not to have committed or attempted fraud, your benefits will resume as normal and in most cases you will be able to claim a back payment to cover the lost money while the investigation was ongoing.
Ideally, there would be a standard period of time in which all investigations must be conducted and concluded, but unfortunately, there is not. DWP investigations can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of years in the most serious of cases. For most people, the whole process will last several months, and sadly getting financially stable again after a DWP investigation could take much longer.
The best thing to do if you are involved in a DWP investigation is to get as much information as possible from a qualified legal professional. The experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors have years of experience and will not only be able to answer questions like ‘How long does a DWP investigation take?’ but will also be able to help you understand step-by-step what will happen and how you should prepare. Contact Stuart Miller Solicitors today to arrange a no-obligation consultation.