Benefit fraud is renowned for being a large expense of public money in the UK, with approximately £1.5bn a year being lost through fraudulent claims. Despite statistics of only 1 in 30 fraudsters getting caught, the government are bringing in new initiatives to attempt to expose cheaters. Local councils and authorities are however continually investigating individuals who they suspect to be committing benefit fraud. “Whistleblower” hotlines are also in place in an attempt to expose benefit cheats. Benefit fraud punishment, should a person be exposed, can range from fines to prison sentences depending on the severity of the offence.
Common Benefit Scams
There are many different ways in which benefit fraud can be committed, all generally involve providing false information or withholding vital information from the Department of Work and Pensions or local council. The scams usually falsely entitle the fraudulent claimant to a higher paid benefit.
Some of the most common benefit scams include:
Benefit thieves who claim incapacity benefit when they’re actually fit for work will be subjected to benefit fraud punishment. In some cases, the claimant even partakes in paid work whilst claiming – which is a very serious offence.
False IDs and passports enable fraudsters to file multiple claims under different names. They may even be using different addresses and renting one of the properties out to a tenant as an additional source of income.
Claiming for a dependent individual who isn’t living at the address supplied also amounts to benefit fraud. Some fraudsters also claim benefits as a carer – stating they are caring for the dependent person even though the dependent claimant isn’t living at the supplied address.
Withholding details of savings and property is also considered to be benefit fraud. People who are already in possession of a property are ineligible to register for council accommodation. Knowing this, some benefit thieves withhold the information of the properties they own in order to obtain council accommodation.
Claimants of Job Seeker’s Allowance must inform the local job centre if they find work, regardless of hours and terms of contract. Failure to do so may result in the incorrect level of benefits being provided, this may lead to the claimant having to repay the excess and having their Job Seeker’s Allowance suspended temporarily.
Suspected Benefit Fraud Procedure
Anyone who is suspected of committing benefit fraud will be contacted by their local authority and an investigation may be conducted by Fraud Investigation Officers. If Fraud Investigation Officers find the suspect to be guilty of committing fraud, benefit fraud punishment may proceed.
Possible benefit fraud punishments include; temporary withdrawal from benefit entitlement, reduction in benefit amount paid, prosecution or alternative penalties to prosecution. Benefit thieves are asked to repay the amount of benefit which they have been overpaid.
All those who face prosecution for benefit fraud are entitled to legal advice and support from criminal defence solicitors. If you’ve been accused of benefit fraud and would like to appeal or seek legal support, Gray and Co Solicitors are here to help. Simply call us on 01244 344299 for advice on what to do next.