Steps to follow
Have you failed to report a change in your personal circumstances to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or council or deliberately provided incorrect information to support your benefit claim?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes and you are better off as a result, then you may be committing benefit fraud. This is a criminal offence which could lead to you facing jail or a fine. You will also have to pay back all the cash you were not entitled to.
If you are suspected of benefit fraud an investigation will be launched and you should receive a letter explaining what will happen next. Your benefits may be stopped while the matter is looked into.
Once you have been told that you are suspected of fraud be careful what you say if you contact the DWP or council – anything you say to them could affect the way they view your case.
If you are suspected of benefit fraud, you may be visited by Fraud Investigation officers from the DWP or be asked to attend an interview under caution to discuss your claim.
You do not have to attend the interview and it is best to obtain legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in this area beforehand who will be able to advise you on whether you should go or not. Attending the interview with a solicitor is also preferable. You may be able to get legal aid to pay for this. The solicitor will be able to advise you on this.
When attending the interview, take any paperwork that supports your case plus a list of questions you want to ask and points you want to make. Ensure they explain everything properly and give you chance to understand any information they mention. Take notes. If you get upset, ask for a break. If you can’t calm down ask that the interview be terminated so you can take advice. Don’t be afraid to say “no comment” or say you want to get advice before you answer. Don’t agree to anything without taking advice first.
Once the investigation is completed, further action may be taken against you if they find evidence of fraud. This could mean: prosecution; a penalty as an alternative to prosecution; withdrawal or reduction of benefit; and/ or a demand to repay overpaid benefit.
If you are facing prosecution for benefit fraud or being asked to pay a penalty as an alternative to prosecution, seek legal advice from a solicitor.
If you are convicted of two separate benefit fraud offences, your entitlement to some benefits may be reduced or withdrawn for a disqualification period under the 'Two Strikes' sanction.
You can challenge or appeal against any benefit decision, including decisions based on the results of an investigation.
What to watch out for
You can still be investigated for benefit fraud even if your lies or omissions led to someone else getting benefit money they weren’t entitled to and not yourself (eg, if you own a flat and told the council the rent is higher than it is so your tenant can get more housing benefit than they should).
Solicitor’s top tip
Fraud is only actually committed if you misled the relevant benefits agency knowing, or suspecting, that you could get more benefit than you’re entitled to. However, the rules are often interpreted very strictly and a case is sometimes treated as fraud even if the benefits body has been misled accidentally. If it looks like this is happening in your case, get advice – either from a solicitor or an agency like Citizens Advice – straight away.
Getting legal advice
Need help finding a fraud solicitor near you? LawyerLocator covers all of the UK from major cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham to small towns in the countryside.
Changes that affect your benefit
Reporting benefit fraud
How to appeal against a benefits decision
Overview of crime and criminal law
Generally meeting with your lawyer
What documents do I need when meeting a lawyer?
Checklist for selecting a lawyer
Choices if you cannot afford a lawyer
Overview of child support
Welcoming a child
Rights of carers