Guest post regarding benefit fraud in the UK
Committing benefit fraud can lead you to being fined or even sent to prison, so what can you expect if you are suspected or subsequently found guilty?
What is Benefit Fraud?
The fundamental aspects of proven benefit fraud are when you deliberately fail to report a change in your personal circumstances that would have an effect on the amount of benefit you are entitled to. The other main factor is if you are proved to have been dishonest about information you gave in support of your claim, such as failing to declare income or owning a property that you have not declared.
The Investigation Process
Once you are suspected of committing benefit fraud a case will be compiled against you and specialist investigators will collect facts and evidence against you in support of any subsequent prosecution.
How is Benefit Fraud Checked?
It is the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions to check all claims for benefit in order to ensure that the money being claimed is due based on the circumstances provided by the claimant. Any information that you give verbally or in writing when making a claim will be checked against records held by other Government departments such as HMRC. The Department for Work and Pensions also has the power to contact many other public organisations that may hold information on you such as banks, gas and electricity companies and even credit reference agencies. This cross checking helps to substantiate any claim for benefit and also enables investigators to collate evidence against you if they suspect that you have committed fraud by identifying anomalies such as evidence of mortgage payments being made where no ownership has been declared.
Implications of Benefit Fraud
The main implications of being accused of benefit fraud are that you may well be prosecuted should the investigators find sufficient evidence to take you to court. There is a chance that you may be offered the chance to pay a fine as an alternative to prosecution in addition to being asked to repay any overpaid benefit that you were not entitled to. You may also find that your benefit is either reduced or actually withdrawn altogether.
Loss of Benefits
There is a system in place which is based on a fairness principle referred to as the ‘The Two Strikes’ sanction and works on the basis that if you are found guilty of two separate benefit fraud offences your entitlement to certain benefits will either be withdrawn altogether or possibly reduced for a disqualification period. Most of the main benefits such as Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance and Housing Benefit are included in the sanctions but lesser benefits such as Tax Credits and Statutory Sick Pay would still be paid despite any prosecution.
If you are facing a prosecution or have been asked to pay a fine as an alternative it would be advisable to seek legal advice as soon as possible. You can seek advice from a solicitor or advice agency such as the Citizens Advice Bureau who will be able to assist you in compiling a response and also consider whether it is worthwhile making an appeal against the accusations made.
Claire Fenn is a personal finance consultant. She enjoys passing on her knowledge on various personal finance blogs.