There are a variety of benefits that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) can look to investigate people for. If you are suspected of some kind of benefit fraud, you will be invited to a voluntary interview with the police.
A benefit fraud investigation can either arise through analysis of the DWP’s data, or a third party may report someone they believe to be committing benefit fraud.
In this blog, we outline what the DWP may seek to investigate and what it means for those who are involved in a benefit fraud investigation.
What is classed as benefit fraud?
Benefit fraud is when a person claims benefits they are not entitled to. Faking an illness to get access to additional funds, a change in circumstances or giving false information on forms are common examples of benefit fraud. Many people get caught out by failing to notify the DWP of a change in circumstances because they believed that it was immaterial to the claim.
What can the DWP investigate?
The DWP can investigate any benefits that they believe are being taken advantage of. These include:
- Job seekers allowance (JSA)
- State pension
- Pension Credit
- Universal Credit
- Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
- Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
- Bereavement benefits
- Maternity allowance
- War pensions paid by the veterans’ agency
Usually, it will be the DWP who makes direct contact in relation to a benefit fraud investigation. Depending on the benefits in question, it may be HMRC, the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, or the local authority who contact you instead.
The DWP often undertake weeks of undercover surveillance in support of their investigation and may even speak to your employers without your consent.
In any of the above instances, those suspected of committing benefit fraud will be invited to a voluntary interview.
At this stage, you are not under arrest, and you do not have to consent to the interview. This is a police interview, and so they must state what the offence is that they think you have committed and explain why they need to interview you.
It is imperative to seek legal advice if invited to a voluntary interview. Contact our team for police station representation and for help in understanding your rights throughout the benefit fraud investigation.
I have been invited to a voluntary interview. What now?
The first thing to do is to contact a solicitor.
Remember, asking to speak with a solicitor does not make it look like you are guilty.
You can ask for the solicitor to be with you during the interview if you would like. We will discuss this all with you before the interview so you are fully aware of your rights and options.
How long does a DWP investigation take?
It completely depends on the severity of the case. After your voluntary interview, fact-finding will continue, and only when a decision has been agreed on by the DWP will you be informed of the outcome.
They will try to process the investigation as quickly as they can, but as with everything, there is only so much resource to do so.
You will be contacted by the DWP once they have reached a decision.
Will I face criminal charges?
You will be informed of the next steps of the process if there is a guilty verdict. This can include:
- A police caution
- Having to pay back overpaid money
- Having your benefits stopped altogether
- Administrative penalties or cautions
- Prosecution in court
If there is a successful prosecution in court, it will lead to a criminal conviction, a fine, risk of imprisonment or community-based punishment. Your solicitor will discuss all possible outcomes with you and will be with you throughout the entire process.
It is sadly common for people to report others of benefit fraud maliciously. False claims of benefit cheats are rife, but none of them result in convictions. This is due to lack of evidence. If there is not enough evidence to back up an allegation, the prosecution will not proceed.
What should I do if the DWP contact me?
It is crucial that you seek expert legal advice as soon as you can once the DWP contact you. The voluntary interview is conducted in according with PACE. It is highly advised that you have a solicitor with you to explain your options and obtain explanations from the authorities before the interview begins.
If you have been contacted regarding an interview in relation to a benefit fraud investigation, contact our Head of Crime & Regulatory.