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If the office which pays your benefits suspects you of giving them wrong or misleading information to do with your benefits, they may investigate you for fraud.
If the investigators find enough evidence to suggest you may have committed fraud, you could be prosecuted and you may have to pay back any benefit you have been overpaid.
This page tells you more about benefit fraud and what to do if you’re suspected of it
What is benefit fraud?
If you have acted dishonestly or deliberately to claim benefits to which you’re not entitled and this comes to the attention of the office paying your benefit, they may try to investigate you for benefit fraud.
Benefit fraud is a criminal offence and is treated differently to benefit overpayments. This is because benefit overpayments can happen for other reasons. For example, because the benefit office made a mistake or because you were not aware that you had to tell the benefit office about a change of circumstances which meant you were entitled to less benefit.
Examples of benefit fraud include:
- deliberately failing to tell the benefit office about your true financial circumstances when you claimed the benefit. For example, you were working while claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance or you did not declare all your savings because you knew that it would affect your entitlement to the benefit
- deliberately failing to tell the benefit office about your true household circumstances. For example, you were living with someone but claiming benefits as a lone parent
- using a false identity or using false documents to claim benefits. For example, you used a false birth certificate so that you could claim Child Benefit
- deliberately not telling the benefit office about a change of circumstances because you knew that it would affect your entitlement to the benefit.
Who investigates benefit 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, who are located in local Jobcentre offices.
In some cases the local authority will carry out the investigation.
Who can be prosecuted for benefit fraud?
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.
An example of this would be if your landlord wrote to the housing benefit office saying your rent was £100 a week although in fact it was only £80.
Time limits for investigating benefit fraud
A benefit office can investigate fraud at any time after it finds out any evidence about it, even if this is several years after the alleged fraud took place..
There is no time limit for recovering a benefit overpayment. However, there is a six-year time limit for taking court action to recover the overpayment.
If you’ve been overpaid benefit
You may have been contacted by the benefit office because you have been overpaid benefit. This is not necessarily fraud.
An overpayment can happen for many reasons, for example because the benefit office made a mistake. Or because you didn’t know you had to tell the benefit office about a change of circumstances that meant you were entitled to less benefit or to stop getting benefit.
If you have received an overpayment of benefit it does not necessarily mean that you will be suspected or be guilty of benefit fraud if you were unaware of what you were doing. However, the benefit office may take action to recover the overpayment.
Civil penalties for causing an overpayment
In some cases, you may have to pay a civil penalty if you do something which causes an overpayment. This can happen if, for example, if you give wrong information or you keep quiet about something, and as a result you get more benefit than you're supposed to be getting.
You can only be asked to pay this penalty if you haven't committed fraud. If you have committed fraud, different rules apply. You can appeal against a decision to impose a civil penalty.
Benefit fraud and overpayments
If you are found guilty of committing benefit fraud it is likely that you will also have been overpaid benefit. The benefit office may take action to recover the overpayment in addition to prosecuting you for fraud.
If you’ve been told you have been overpaid benefit, you should get help about what to do.
What can happen if you’re suspected of benefit fraud
If a benefit office suspects you of fraud or they want to question whether you’re entitled to the benefit, they will carry out an investigation. During the investigation, the benefit office may:
- make enquiries into your circumstances
- suspend your benefit
- interview you informally
- interview you under caution.
Fraud investigators may ask you to an informal interview if they want to find out if there are grounds to suspect you of fraud.
Information you give at an informal interview may be used later to make an allegation of benefit fraud against you.
Interviews under caution
If the fraud investigators already think you have committed a benefit offence they are more likely to interview you under caution.
If you are asked to attend an interview under caution, this means that anything you say in the interview could be used as evidence in court. You should be told this before the interview starts.
If you are invited to any kind of interview, you should get advice about what to do before the interview takes place.
What happens after the fraud investigation?
If the investigators find enough evidence to suggest you have committed benefit fraud, they may refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
A case will be referred if:
- the gross overpayment is £2,000 or over, or the overpayment is less than this but you have refused to accept an administration penalty or a caution
- you have used false identities or documents
- you helped or encouraged others to commit an offence
- there is evidence of organised fraud
- you have previously been convicted of benefit fraud.
Not all cases end in prosecution. The following factors will be taken into account before making a decision to take you to court. These include:
- how likely the prosecution is to be successful. This will often depend on the type and quality of the evidence that has been presented
- the amount of any overpayment of benefit. If you would have been better off on another benefit rather than claiming fraudulently, a prosecution is less likely
- whether you have previously committed benefit fraud
- the seriousness of the fraud. If you used forged or stolen documents or made multiple claims, there is likely to be a prosecution
- your age, health and personal circumstances
- the extent to which you actuallyintendedto defraud the benefit office
- the type of fraud. Authorities may wish to make examples of certain types of fraud.
What to do if you’re suspected of benefit fraud
If a benefit office has contacted you because they suspect you of benefit fraud you should seek advice immediately, for example from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
If you are asked to attend an interview under caution, you should get advice from a criminal law solicitor straight away. It's important that you don't go to the interview without a solicitor. You may be able to get free legal advice under criminal legal aid.