The consequences of benefit fraud can be serious, with significant fines and even a prison sentence in some cases. Everyone convicted of benefit fraud will be required to repay all the money received through false pretences. It is not uncommon to be accused of benefit fraud where there is no basis for this, so it is important to know what your rights in in this situation.
What is benefit fraud?
If you purposely and knowingly supply false information when submitting a benefits claim, or fail to notify the benefits office when there is a change in your circumstances, then you may be accused of benefit fraud. You should always inform the benefits office at once if anything changes in your personal situation, even if you don’t think it is relevant.
What happens next?
Fraud investigation officers from the Department of Work and Pensions may either visit you at home or summon you to their offices to discuss the allegations that have been made against you. Your benefits may be put on hold during the course of the investigation. If they gather evidence that they believe proves you are guilty of benefit fraud, there are a number of actions which may be taken. You will receive a letter outlining the likely timetable of the next steps that may be taken.
If the case is regarded as particularly serious you can be prosecuted through the courts. If this is the case, it is highly advisable to seek benefit fraud legal help. An experienced solicitor will be able to help you put your defence together and will have a detailed understanding of the laws surrounding benefit fraud. In some circumstances, you may be able to pay a fine to avoid prosecution. This fine will be in addition to the benefits claimed unlawfully, which will also need to be repaid. If you are found guilty of two separate incidences of benefit fraud, you may fall under the ‘two strikes’ rule and your benefits may be cancelled or reduced permanently or for a specified period of time. This rule cannot be applied if you are in receipt of child tax credits or statutory sick pay.
The best advice is to be transparent in any benefits claims you make. If you are unclear or confused, always ask your local benefits office for guidance. If you have been accused of benefit fraud, or believe that you may be suspected of it, seek legal advice as soon as possible. Your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau will be able to advise you. The benefits system is complex and fluid and its parameters change frequently. It is your responsibility to keep up to date on which benefits you qualify for and act accordingly.
You have the legal right to appeal against any decisions made about your benefits, including judgements that have come as the result of an official investigation. A solicitor familiar with benefit cases will be the best source of help in this instance.