The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) define benefit fraud as an offence involving someone obtaining state benefit they are not entitled to, or deliberately failing to report a change in their personal circumstances.
Benefit fraud is a serious offence and it can be a frightening moment when you receive a letter from the local authority or the DWP.
Benefit fraud investigations can be upsetting and stressful. As soon as you receive a letter from the authorities, it’s important to seek specialist advice immediately.
Have you been charged or arrested for Benefit Fraud?
If you or somebody close to you has been arrested or charged with benefit fraud, you will probably be feeling very stressed, confused, worried and concerned about what’s going to happen.
In some cases, the charge is not based on fact, but an error in the system or because you have not provided enough information.
In this article, we aim to answer some of your questions and provide you with the support and guidance that you need.
What type of actions are considered Benefit Fraud?
Here are some examples of benefit fraud that may have led to the situation at hand.
Working and claiming – people who are receiving housing benefit or even council tax reduction due to being entitled to job seekers’ allowance or income support, but who are working.
Failure to disclose property ownership, capital or income – this is when people do not inform the authorities about their income, savings, property or capital or even an increase in wages so that they receive more benefit than they should.
Non-disclosure of partner (living together with a partner) – when a person receives housing benefit or council tax reduction although they have a partner.
Failure to declare non-dependents or sub-tenants – when a person doesn’t inform the authorities about other adults who live at the property, and they retain their entitlement to benefit.
False claims by homeowners – when a property owner denies that they own the property and state that they are paying rent for it, inventing a fictitious landlord and producing false rent books and tenancy agreements.
False address or failure to declare a change of address – the claimant is receiving a benefit for an address where they do not live. This type of offence may involve other tenants or the landlord or may occur when the person doesn’t inform that authority that they have moved out of a property. If the property is rented from the local authority and it is not being used, the home may be recovered for use by another person.
Landlord fraud – when the landlord continues to receive benefit paid to them, although they are aware that the claimant has already moved out.
In some cases, you may have been under the impression that somebody else would tell the authorities about your change in circumstances. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or the Job Centre Plus will not always notify the necessary departments on your behalf and the onus always falls on you.
What happens in a Benefit Fraud investigation?
When a benefit fraud investigation takes place, it can be a very worrying for you. You may be anxious that you won’t be able to cover your bills or have enough food for your family to eat. Everything feels very unstable and uncertain.
Take comfort that we are here to help.
Although every case is different and we will give you the advice to suit your situation when we speak with you, here is some general advice to help you to handle the investigation process. The process can be complicated and lengthy.
You’ll typically discover that you’re being investigated for benefit fraud when you receive a letter from either the local authority/council or the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). The letter will give you a date and a location to attend a meeting called an ‘interview under caution’. It will also state that you have a right to consult a lawyer and the right to attend with someone else. In the letter, you’ll also find contact details of the investigation team.
You may have been falsely accused of benefit fraud
Please also note that in many cases, people are wrongly accused of benefit fraud. If you feel this is you, there are many reasons why you may have received a letter. In some cases, it may be that there is an error in the system and in other cases, somebody may have reported you. It may also be that you failed or have forgotten to inform the authorities about your savings or earnings.
Without a lawyer, you cannot find out more until the interview
You’re very unlikely to be told why you’re being investigated or any other details about your case until you are at the meeting and in a situation where you can be questioned.
What many people find difficult is that the authorities now have permission to look into almost every area of your life so that they can obtain evidence. Their investigation may stretch from your NHS records to your social media accounts; everybody you have contact with can be looked into.
Typically, the next part of the process of being accused of benefit fraud is attending the meeting which is known as an ‘interview under caution’.
The letter that you received will usually invite you to attend the ‘interview under caution, where you will be interviewed with rules and rights noted in the PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act).
The interview will be tape-recorded in case it needs to be used as evidence and played in court (if your case goes to court). However, this means that you have the right to legal advice, which is why it’s so important that you consult with as legal professional beforehand.
Instruct a legal professional as soon as possible
We strongly recommend that you do not attend an interview without a legal professional to support you. However, if you were to do so, you’d be met at the venue by two investigation officers and taken to a room for formal interviewing.
Critically, if you attend without a legal professional, you will be informed about the case against you once the interview has started. If you hire a lawyer, they will gain disclosure about your case before the interview. The information that your lawyer now has access to will give you insight into the charges against you, and you will be able to prepare.
The interview questions may be very probing, and you may be shown evidence that the authorities have gathered to prove their case. The interview is high pressure and can be intense and sometimes upsetting.
At the end of the interview, a decision will be made on whether you will be able to pay back the overpayment. You will be informed about this by letter. This is another occasion to seek the help of a legal professional as there may be a case for appeal or the calculations will more than likely be exaggerated.
What should you do if you get arrested or charged with Benefit Fraud?
Benefit fraud can be a very complicated area of law. Although it’s not compulsory for you to take legal representation, we advise you to do so. Regulations, rules and restrictions for benefits are in a constant flux of change and it can be very difficult to keep up with them and understand them.
Our team stay current with changes and review the changes that take place. You will have access to the latest information and will be given the best defence and advice. We will support you throughout the entire process and ensure that you get the best outcome.
The benefit fraud investigation is a formal criminal investigation, much like a police interview but by benefit fraud professionals. Most people wouldn’t attend a police interview without taking a lawyer with them.
Hiring specialist knowledge will give you peace of mind. We advise that you get in touch with us as soon as you can so that we can assess your case before it develops further.
The ‘interview under caution’ can be a very intimidating and stressful event. We may even be able to stop you having to attend one. In its place, we can work with you to create support documents that can be submitted to the investigations department instead. You will be saved from having to go through a very painful and unpleasant experience.
Can the police search my home?
The police can search your home as they will be seeking evidence. The authorities will have granted access to your property and the police will carry out the search. They will seize any cash over £1,000, any valuable assets and any paperwork which can support their case.
Once the search is complete, you are those who are in the home are entitled to received a list of all the property being taken.
What type of sentence could you get for Benefit Fraud?
Depending on what you are charged with, you may have your benefits stopped from anywhere between 13 weeks and 3 years. You may have to pay back the overpayment even if you’re in prison.
The maximum prison sentence for benefit fraud is 7 years but this type of sentence is almost never applied unless the fraud involves hundreds of thousands of pounds and a large group of people working together to deceive the system.
What mitigating factors may be considered in sentencing?
When sentencing for benefit fraud, your case will be looked at for whether it’s part of a group activity of something you were forced into. If you’ve used a false identity or you’ve purposefully given misleading information, this will be taken into account to decide upon your sentence.
All these factors and more (listed in the fraud sentencing guidelines) will be considered and we will advise you on these matters in advance, in any event.
Could you go to jail for Benefit Fraud?
Benefit fraud is a serious offence, but it does not result in a prison sentence every time. By taking the right steps, many cases can be resolved outside of the court system. In these situations, repayment or all or most of the amount falsely claimed will need to occur. There could also be a fine to pay, and you may be suspended from making benefit claims for a period.
The fine you pay could be up to £5,000, and the maximum jail sentence is seven years.
We handle benefit fraud basis regularly and have deep expertise in this field. We can help you by recommending the best course of action to take to mitigate the outcome.
Does a conviction for Benefit Fraud go on your criminal record?
If your benefit fraud case progresses to court and you are convicted of defrauding the Department of Works and Pensions, your conviction will be noted on your CRB / police record. The period of the endorsement will depend on the length and the type of the sentence.
How Can Stuart Miller Solicitors Help?
Many people come to us for help when they are charged with benefit fraud. We know the regulations inside out and will look at every case for a defence. Often, people are accused by the local authority or DWP when they have ‘forgotten’ to tell the DWP about their earnings or savings.
It’s important that you are properly legally represented when you first receive the letter inviting you to the ‘interview under caution’. By doing so, we will typically get you a good result. In some cases, a client will come to us after the interview. Although it can often be more difficult, but not impossible, for us to get that good result in these cases.
What will happen when I instruct a fraud lawyer?
When you contact us to instruct us to be your lawyer in your benefit fraud case, we can then contact the DWP or the local authority to find out more about why you are being accused. We can then look into the information that you’ve given us to find a way to give you defence.
You will feel a lot more at ease about the situation as you’ll know that we are handling it for you. We have a specialist team who are very up to date on benefits rules and regulations.
Would you like to discuss your case before instructing us?
If you’d like to have a no obligation chat with us before you instruct us to take your case, then call us today.
In addition to giving you a free consultation, we can also represent you at the police station if you’ve been arrested. We can look at securing you legal aid.
Please contact us for a face to face meeting or a telephone call. There is a WhatsApp link at the bottom of the page if that is your preference.
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