Over 20 million people across the UK apply for state benefits or pensions from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to help with the extra costs of everyday life.
Last month, the UK government announced new plans to give a £510m cash injection to the DWP to help it crack down on Universal Credit fraudsters who lie about their benefit claims. The funds were released after figures showed the DWP prevented at least £1.9bn of fraud in the first year of the pandemic.
Under the plans, the UK government will use the money to improve the Department’s ability to detect and prevent benefits fraud and catch fraudsters across the country.
About 2,000 trained specialists will review claims by verifying ownership, tracking self-employment claimants’ income statements and cross-checking bank details. Ministers hope the crackdown will recover more money from taxpayers.
The DWP’s definition of benefit fraud is when “someone gets a state benefit they are not entitled to or knowingly fails to report a change in their personal circumstances.”
The most common form of benefits fraud is when a person receives unemployment benefits while working. Another is when applicants state that they live alone, but are financially supported by a partner or spouse.
Failing to tell the state about a “change in circumstances”, for example, that your partner is now living with you, or has moved house, or a relative has died leaving you some money can also be seen as ‘fraud by omission’. ‘.
Being accused of fraud by the DWP can be stressful enough, but the thought of being investigated by officials without really knowing why can cause undue concern.
Many investigators wear plain clothes and can show up at your home or work at any time, which can be scary.
But having some knowledge of DWP investigations can make all the difference, allowing you to live your life as normally as possible while an investigation is taking place.
Benefits fraud typically occurs when someone has claimed benefits they weren’t entitled to on purpose, such as by failing to report a change in circumstances or providing false information.
Common Examples of Benefit Fraud
feigning illness or injury to obtain unemployment or disability benefits
Failing to report income from a business or job to make the income appear lower than it really is
living with someone who contributes to the household income without declaring that income to the authorities
falsifying accounts to make it appear that a person has less money than they say they do
In each circumstance, the DWP will need evidence that someone is receiving a benefit (a tax credit or benefit payment, for example) that they would not normally be entitled to.
Fraud investigators have a wide range of powers that allow them to collect evidence in a variety of ways, including surveillance, interviews, and document tracking.
Unfortunately, you won’t know the exact details of an investigation against you until you’re told later, which can happen in court if you’re charged with a crime.
There is a common misconception that the only people who are investigated for benefit fraud and other crimes involving the DWP are those who are outright ripping off the system.
While the DWP acts on reports from the public, it also has its own sophisticated means of detecting when fraudulent activity might be taking place, meaning that anyone receiving benefits from the DWP could be investigated at any time.
What happens during a DWP investigation?
If the DWP is going to initiate a formal investigation against you, they will notify you in writing, by phone, or by email; this is usually done by post.
When you are notified, you will also be told if you will receive a visit from a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO) or if you are required to attend an interview.
In the early stages of an investigation, you may not be told that it is taking place until the DWP has assessed whether there is good reason to formally investigate a possible case of fraud.
Many notices and reports turn out to be false, so the DWP wants to make sure they don’t waste time on a pointless investigation.
As soon as there is sufficient evidence of possible fraud, the DWP will launch an official investigation and notify you.
DWP investigators can collect many types of evidence against a potentially fraudulent claimant.
Most common types of evidence
inspectors’ reports on surveillance activities
photographs or videos
financial data, including bank statements
interviews with you or people you know
any evidence presented by those who reported it
A common form of benefit fraud is income misreporting or underreporting.
If you’re applying for unemployment benefits but are seen attending a workplace, the DWP can talk to the owner or manager of that business to find out exactly why you’re there, what work you’re doing, and how much you’re getting paid.
Investigators may also check your social media accounts and search your online profiles for images, location records, and other evidence that may or may not be useful to them.
Those who use social media a lot will leave a trail of their life and habits, often allowing researchers to piece together a picture of what that person’s life is really like.
If this is not consistent with the details of that person’s claim for benefits, that evidence may end up being used against you.
What if I am falsely reported to the DWP?
False reports of benefits fraud are common in the UK, with some studies indicating around 140,000 are made each year.
Until the DWP determines that there is no case against you, there is little you can do. Cooperate as best you can and remember that those who have falsely reported for malicious reasons may end up being prosecuted.
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If you are concerned about a current or future DWP investigation against you or a loved one, seeking the advice of a legal expert may help.
Citizens Advice Scotland can also offer free and impartial advice, you can contact them here.
You can report fraud by calling MyGov.Scot free on 0800 158 2071 or by post here.
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