Benefit fraud is a crime. Break the law and you could face a criminal record.
January 2010. If you deliberately fail to report a change in your personal circumstances or are dishonest about information supporting your benefit claim, you are treated as committing benefit fraud.
If you are suspected of committing benefit fraud, you may be visited by Fraud Investigation officers from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or be asked to attend an interview to discuss your claim. Your benefit may be suspended while the matter is looked into. If this happens, you should receive a letter explaining what will happen next.
You need to tell your benefits office about any changes in circumstances as soon as possible. They will tell you if it affects your benefit.
Some changes may mean you're entitled to new or additional benefits, but others could mean you no longer qualify for benefit, or should receive a lower amount. You may be overpaid if th You must report any change in your circumstances to your local benefit office as soon as it happens, whether or not you think the change is directly related to your benefits.
Some examples of the changes you need to report include:
• getting married, entering into a civil partnership or moving in with a partner
• moving house
• getting a new job
• getting a pay rise
• inheriting or unexpectedly coming into money
• taking in a lodger
• no longer being sick or ill
• travelling or moving abroad
Sometimes a change in your circumstances may mean that your benefit rate will change, or that you become entitled to an additional or a different benefit. For example, if you're a lone parent getting Housing Benefit and you decide to look for work, you may be entitled to Jobseeker's Allowance as well.
Other changes in your circumstances, for example getting a pay rise, may mean you no longer qualify for a benefit or will get a reduced amount.
If you deliberately fail to report a change in your personal circumstances you are treated as having committed benefit fraud. If you're prosecuted for benefit fraud you could be fined or get a prison sentence.
Once Fraud Investigation officers have collected facts about your case a decision will be made on whether or not to take further action. If there's evidence that you’re committing benefit fraud, any of the following may happen:
• you may be prosecuted
• you may be asked to pay a penalty as an alternative to prosecution
• your benefit may be reduced or withdrawn
• you will be asked to repay the overpaid benefit
If you are convicted of two separate benefit fraud offences, you may find your entitlement to certain benefits is reduced or withdrawn for a disqualification period.
If you have any questions about your benefits, a benefit claim or an investigation, it's a good idea to contact your benefits office. You may have made a genuine mistake, or be unsure if something applies in your particular case.
If you are worried about being suspected of benefit fraud, you may want to get independent advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
If you are facing prosecution for benefit fraud or being asked to pay a penalty as an alternative to prosecution, it's a good idea to seek legal advice from a solicitor, or consult an experienced adviser.
Benefit fraud cost the country around £900 million in 2008-09. If you think someone is committing benefit fraud, find out how you can report them and stop them taking money from the people who need it most.
Written by Anna Zdunczyk
Solicitor at Lita Gale Solicitors
The above article is meant to be relied upon as an informative article and in no way constitutes legal advice. For legal advice regarding your case, please contact Lita Gale Solicitors on 020 7404 2899 for a Consultation with a Solicitor.