Benefit fraud is a serious crime in the UK and if you’re convicted of committing this offence, you could face a considerable fine or even be handed a prison sentence. But what can you really expect to happen if you’re being investigated for or are found guilty of this crime?
What Is Benefit Fraud?
There are two ways you can commit benefit fraud. These are:
- Not reporting relevant changes to your circumstances.
- Being dishonest in order to receive benefits (e.g. denying or giving false information about household income).
Essentially, you will be committing benefit fraud if you do either of these two things so that you can continue to receive benefits/receive a higher amount than you are entitled to.
The Investigation Process
If you’re suspected of committing benefit fraud, you will likely be contacted by at least one of three government institutions:
- Department for Work and Pensions
- HM Revenue and Customs
- Your local council authority
After this, it is possible that you will receive a visit from a Fraud Investigation Officer, who may ask to interview you so that they can go through your claim in detail and see if there are any discrepancies. In addition to this, there is the possibility that your benefit claim will be suspended whilst the investigation carried out. In this case, you will receive a letter notifying you of this change and instructing you what to do next. It is important that you seek legal advice if you are asked to go for an interview with a Fraud Investigation Officer. In many circumstances you can also have a solicitor present in the interview free of charge if you qualify under the Legal Aid scheme.
What Happens If Further Action Is Taken
If the Fraud Investigation Officers find evidence that you are committing benefit fraud, or have done so in the past, they will begin to take further action against you. These actions may include one or more of the following:
- You may be taken to court.
- You may be asked to pay a fine, which can be between £350 and £2000, instead of taking the case to court.
- Your existing benefit payments may be reduced to the amount you are legally entitled to or they may be stopped altogether.
- You may be asked to refund any overpaid benefits.
If you are not offered the opportunity to accept a penalty or reject it, you will be taken to court and prosecuted for your offence. If you are found guilty, the three possible punishments include:
- Paying a fine and costs.
- Receiving a community service order.
- Receiving a prison sentence.
Listed below are the maximum sentences that can be handed down for common benefit offences:
|Knowingly failing to report a change of circumstances||Up to 3 months in prison per offence (serving a maximum of 6 months) and/or a maximum fine of £5000 and/or costs.|
|Knowingly making a false statement to obtain benefit payments||Up to 3 months in prison per offence (serving a maximum of 6 months) and/or a maximum fine of £5000 and/or costs.|
|Dishonestly failing to report a change of your circumstances||Maximum of 7 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine and/or costs.|
|Dishonestly making a false statement to obtain benefit payments||Maximum of 7 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine and/or costs.|
If you or someone you know of is being investigated for benefit fraud and would like a consultation from one of our experienced and reliable team, either use our online contact form (link to contact page) or give us a call on 01244 344 299.