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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

What happens if you are suspected of benefit fraud

Committing benefit fraud can lead you to being fined or facing a prison sentence. In all cases you will have to pay back the money you were not entitled to. Find out more about benefit fraud investigation and where to get advice from if you are being investigated for benefit fraud.

What is benefit fraud

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 will be contacted by the Department for Work and Pensions or your local authority. You may be visited by Fraud Investigation Officers 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.

Reporting changes in circumstances

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 the benefits office doesn't know about your changed circumstances.

Benefit fraud is a criminal offence and can be commited in a number of ways. For examples of benefit fraud use the link below:

What happens after a benefit fraud investigation

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  • your benefit may be reduced or withdrawn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

Loss of benefits

Important changes to the rules around loss of benefit entitlement following a benefit fraud offence come into effect from 1 April 2010.

If you commit a first offence resulting in a conviction, administrative penalty or caution, it will be subject to a ‘One Strike’ sanction. This means you may lose your right to continue receiving benefit payments for a four-week period.

You will be notified if the ‘One Strike’ sanction is applied to your benefits.

If you are convicted of two separate benefit fraud offences within five years, you may find your entitlement to certain benefits is reduced or withdrawn for an even longer period.

This is known as the 'Two Strikes' sanction, and you'll be notified if it's applied to your benefits.

Sanctionable benefits

Benefits which can be withdrawn or reduced are called sanctionable benefits. These include but are not limited to:

  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Pension Credit

Disqualifying benefits

Disqualifying benefits are not sanctionable themselves, but benefit fraud offences involving them may lead to a loss of benefit sanction against other benefits.

Examples include:

  • Attendance Allowance
  • Child Benefit
  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Retirement Pension

Some benefits, such as tax credits and Statutory Sick Pay, are not involved in the 'loss of benefit' sanction process at all.

Where to get advice

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.

Legal advice

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.

The Community Legal Service (CLS) directory provides details of all solicitors, advice agencies and information providers across England and Wales who hold or have committed to its quality mark.

How to appeal against a decision made about your benefits

You have the right to dispute or appeal against any benefit decision, including decisions based on the results of an investigation.

Additional links

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