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If you are suspected of benefit fraud, you will be investigated by a government agency, most likely the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). This investigation can take weeks, or it can take years – it all depends on the facts of the case.
Being investigated for benefit fraud?
If you are being investigated for benefit fraud and you live in England or Wales, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. We can represent you throughout proceedings, helping to bring the matter to a swift and satisfactory conclusion. Get in touch for a free, confidential discussion with one of our fraud and financial crime solicitors.
Why is the DWP investigating me?
The DWP will investigate you if it suspects you of benefit fraud. Benefit fraud is when you claim state-funded benefits or a tax break that you know you are not entitled to. You might be guilty of benefit fraud if you have concealed information from the DWP, or presented misleading information, which would impact your entitlement. Examples include:
- Not reporting a change in circumstances
- Faking or exaggerating an injury/illness
- Concealing additional streams of income
- Not declaring that other people live with you
- Declaring that your children live with you when they do not
The DWP may initially suspect you of benefit fraud thanks to their own intelligence. Alternatively, a third party might report you. This could be a financial institution or another government agency. Or, it could be a friend, family member, colleague, or another individual you know on a personal basis. Of course, this report might not be accurate: you might be reported based on inaccurate information, or for malicious reasons.
Will I be told who reported me?
You will not normally be told who reported you. The DWP will want to protect their identify for safety reasons. This may be a source of frustration for you, but we recommend that you put it to the back of your mind. Certainly, it is a bad idea to confront anyone you suspect of reporting you. Any type of intimidation or accusation could work against you, or even land you in trouble with the police.
What happens during a DWP investigation?
First, you will get a notice of investigation from the DWP or another government agency, such as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). This will most likely be a letter and/or a phone call. However, the DWP may actually have been investigating you for some time before this communication. It is difficult to know exactly.
Once you get a notice of investigation, the DWP will probably suspend your benefits. This is obviously very problematic, so we recommend that you try to preserve your finances as much as possible over the coming weeks. If you are cleared of the allegations, you can recover the lost payments later on.
Then, you will be invited to participate in one or more interviews under caution. This means that you are under a police caution. Anything you say may be given as evidence against you in court. You can take a solicitor to these interviews – something we strongly recommend. The person interviewing you will be a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO).
The DWP will continue their investigation until it:
- Has enough evidence to convict you of fraud; or
- Decides there is not enough evidence to link you to benefit fraud
During the course of the investigation, you may be invited for an interview under caution on multiple occasions. An FIO may also question other people who are associated with you, such as your employer, family, friends and neighbours. You may even be placed under surveillance to help the DWP get a better picture of your true situation.
Once the investigation is complete, the DWP will inform you of the outcome via phone call or letter.
How long does a DWP investigation take?
So, exactly how long does this process take? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. Every DWP investigation is different. We have seen DWP investigations last for a matter of weeks. We have also seen DWP investigations continue for many years. It varies depending on the complexity of the case and the information that is available to the authorities.
To some extent, it also depends on your actions. If you accept that you have committed benefit fraud and co-operate with the FIO, then the investigation will conclude relatively quickly. However, if you are innocent of the allegations laid against you, then you must defend your position. Otherwise, you could be wrongly penalised. Our solicitors can represent you throughout the investigation.
What happens if the investigation is dropped?
If the DWP decides that there is not sufficient evidence to link you to benefit fraud, the investigation against you will be dropped. Your benefits will subsequently resume. Normally, you can claim a back payment, too. This means you can recover the money that was lost while the investigation was underway and your benefits were temporarily suspended.
What happens if the investigation finds evidence of benefit fraud?
If, on the other hand, the DWP uncovers evidence of benefit fraud, there are a number of possible consequences. If the fraud is relatively minor, you may simply have your benefits reduced or cancelled. You may also be told to pay back the benefits that you wrongfully claimed. However, if the benefit fraud is considered serious, you may face a criminal prosecution. If so, your case could go to court. If convicted, you could be told to pay a fine of up to £5,000. Benefit fraud can also result in imprisonment.
What should you do if you are accused of benefit fraud?
If you are accused of benefit fraud, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors for expert legal advice. We can accompany you during all interviews under caution. This is in your best interests, as we can advise you of your rights and ensure that you do not accidentally jeopardise your case. A fraud solicitor from our team will conduct their own investigation to confirm that you are innocent of benefit fraud. Alternatively, it could be that any overpayment claimed was a genuine error on your part, as opposed to deliberate dishonesty. We will present these findings to the DWP, acting as your voice throughout the investigation process.
We also suggest that you co-operate with the investigation, albeit with the guidance of a fraud solicitor. If you drag your heels, it will only prolong the investigation, and could result in harsher penalties later down the line.
Contact our fraud and financial crime solicitors
Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.