A benefit fraud investigation can feel daunting and challenging. To put your mind at ease, we explore the five key steps during the benefit fraud investigation process. We also cover six of the most frequently asked questions about a benefit fraud investigation and how a fraud barrister can help.
What Is Benefit Fraud?
Benefit fraud occurs when you claim benefits (often in the form of financial, medical or food assistance) to which you are not entitled. The most common form of benefit fraud is when a person receives unemployment benefits when they are working. It’s estimated that in Great Britain almost £2.8 million has been lost to benefit fraud, almost double the 2010 figure of £1.1 million. And, £8.6 billion was overpaid by the Government during 2021.
Examples of benefit fraud include:
- Failure to report a change in your circumstances which you know affects your benefit (e.g. if your partner is now living with you, or you have moved house, or a relative has died and has left you some money)
- Faking an illness to access additional funds
- Providing false information
- Not recording any additional household income which you know would reduce your benefits
If this comes to the attention of the office distributing the benefit, you’ll likely be investigated for benefit fraud.
The Benefit Fraud Investigation Process
The benefit fraud investigation process typically follows these five key steps:
- Initial contact
If you are being investigated for benefit fraud, you may be contacted by the office responsible for the benefit in question. This contact is likely to come from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), your local authority, or someone from the Service and Personnel Veterans Agency. The method of communication will depend on the office who is contacting you and which of your details are available to them. The office may contact you via different means, depending on if you respond and the severity of the benefit fraud investigation.
- Suspension of benefit payments
While you are being investigated for benefit fraud, you may receive a letter informing you that your benefits may be temporarily suspended.
- Interview under caution
The third step in the benefit fraud investigation process is being interviewed under caution. The office which provides your benefit needs to collect as much information and evidence as possible. As a result, you could be visited by a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO) or be invited to an investigatory interview, i.e. an ‘interview under caution’.
This interview is formal and may be recorded to collect evidence in a criminal investigation against you. Hence, you should either exercise your legal right to remain silent or answer any questions honestly and to the best of your ability. The information gathered will be used to determine the office’s next steps in the benefit fraud investigation. So, it’s important to get advice from a specialist benefit fraud barrister during this step.
- Further investigation
Following on from the interview under caution, officers may continue to collect information as part of the benefit fraud investigation process.
The DWP can investigate any benefits they believe are being taken advantage of, for example:
- Job Seekers Allowance
- Pension Credit
- Universal Credit
- War Pensions Scheme
- Personal Independence Payment
- Disability Living Allowance
- Bereavement Benefits
- Employment and Support Allowance
- Maternity Allowance
Local authorities, the DWP and HMRC can make investigations to identify and prevent fraud. These authorities are likely to share information about you with one another.
Officers can only make enquiries into benefit fraud where they have reasonable grounds to do so. During the benefit fraud investigation, they can:
- Undertake undercover surveillance
- Communicate with your place of employment
- Monitor your social media accounts
- Interview people that you know
- Check your bank statements to find information that may be useful to their investigation.
- Take photographs or videos for evidence
The final step in the benefit fraud investigation process is the outcome. If during a benefit fraud investigation you are found not guilty, you should be able to claim back your benefits that were temporarily stopped while you were investigated for fraud.
However, if you are found guilty by FIOs, the consequences can vary depending on how many times you are found guilty of committing benefit fraud. These consequences might include:
- Order for you to pay back the overpaid money
- Being taken to court, which could result in a criminal conviction, a fine, imprisonment of up to three months, or community-based punishment
- Ask you to pay a penalty between £350 and £5,000
- Reduce or stop your benefits for the following three years
- Or, a combination of all of the above
Which Benefits Can be Stopped If You’re Guilty of Benefit Fraud?
Only sanctionable benefits can be stopped or reduced. If you commit benefit fraud on a benefit that isn’t sanctionable, your other benefits may be reduced instead. However, if you receive any of the ‘exception’ benefits, none of your benefits can be stopped or reduced. See below for a list of sanctionable benefits and which benefits cannot be stopped.
What if Someone Maliciously Reported Me for Benefit Fraud?
Unfortunately, individuals being falsely reported for benefit fraud in the UK is more common than you’d expect. The Guardian reported that, between 2011 and 2016, more than 85% of public tips on benefit ‘frauds’ were false. Most claims were found to be false primarily due to a lack of evidence against the alleged fraudster.
Commonly Asked Questions About The Benefit Fraud Investigation
We know that the benefit fraud investigation process can be overwhelming, so we’ve broken down the six most frequently asked questions.
- How do I know if I’m being investigated by DWP?
The DWP will commonly contact you once they have been informed that there may be grounds for a formal benefit fraud investigation. You will be contacted by a registered form of contact by your local authority, the DWP or HMRC, for instance, by telephone or formal letter.
- Can the DWP access my bank account?
Yes, the DWP can look through all of your bank accounts and financial statements. They are looking for proof of benefit fraud; for instance, they might look for payments from an employer if you are claiming unemployment benefits.
- How far back can the DWP investigate?
When it comes to investigating your financial statements, the DWP can look into as much detail as they wish from the last 12 years.
- Can DWP check your Facebook?
Yes, the DWP can look over your social media accounts, including Facebook. Whilst checking your social media, the DWP will be looking at your tagged pictures, any location check-ins or any posts that may incriminate you for benefit fraud.
- Do the DWP watch your house?
Yes, the DWP may watch your house. Often if your house is being watched, officers will be focusing on who enters and exits the property with the use of undercover surveillance. Hence, the officers may be in normal clothes to be discreet. This situation may arise if your partner now living with you and the household income has increased, but you haven’t reported this change of circumstance.
- What happens when you report benefit fraud?
You can anonymously report anyone you suspect of benefit fraud using the confidential online form or by calling the benefit fraud hotline. What happens next depends on the individual in question. For example, they may have now reported a change in their circumstances. However, once you have reported someone for benefit fraud, you won’t be informed about any of the next steps, nor the outcome.
We hope that you have found this guide useful for understanding the benefit fraud investigation process and that you now know what to expect if you are investigated for benefit fraud.
If you are dealing with a benefit fraud case, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of experienced benefit fraud barristers who have expertise in a variety of fraud cases.
See below for the full list of sanctionable benefits and benefits that can’t be stopped:
|Sanctionable benefits include:
||Benefits that can’t be reduced or stopped if you’re guilty of benefit fraud:
||Exception benefits that can’t be stopped:
|Employment and Support Allowance
||Statutory Adoption Pay
||Bereavement Support Payment
||Statutory Maternity Pay
||Statutory Paternity Pay
||Child Tax Credit
||Statutory Sick Pay
|Industrial Death Benefit
|Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
||Disability Living Allowance
|Industrial Injuries Reduced Earnings Allowance
||Graduated Retirement Benefit
|Industrial Injuries Retirement Allowance
|Industrial Injuries Unemployability Supplement
||Industrial Injuries Constant Attendance Allowance (where a Disablement Pension is payable)
||Industrial Injuries Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance (where a Disablement Pension is payable)
|Severe Disablement Allowance
||Personal Independence Payment
||Social Fund Payments
|War Disablement Pension
||War Pension Constant Attendance Allowance
|War Widow’s Pension
||War Pension Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance
|War Pension Unemployability Supplement
||War Pension Mobility Supplement
|War Pension Allowance for Lower Standard of Occupation
|Widowed Mother’ s/Parent’s Allowance
|Widow’s Pension/Bereavement Allowance
|Working Tax Credit