A Benefit Fraud investigation – the 5 steps
There are 5 distinct phases to Benefit Fraud and Tax Credit Fraud investigations. Because we conduct hundreds of cases we have become highly experienced and successful Benefit Fraud solicitors. This means we always take the right steps to ensure the best outcome. The result is that in many cases, we can avoid prosecution. Where we cannot prevent a charge, we will often make representations that the case should be discontinued.
The DWP or HMRC find out about fraudulent benefit claims in many ways. These include:
- A neighbour or member of the public makes a report. This often leads to an allegation that a single parent actually lives with a partner.
- There are unexplained interest payments. The investigator will suspect undeclared capital.
- Occupants other than the claimant registered for utilities, banking or insurance or television subscriptions.
- Investigators search a National insurance database, leading to an allegation of working and claiming.
- The DWP routinely request claimants bank statements. The claimant has to explain all transactions.
- Investigations which arise from other criminal offences and police searches.
- There are non-dependent residents the house such as grown up children.
- Job Centre Staff and the police. pass on information.
- Evidence collected by surveillance using the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.
It is very easy to report suspected benefit fraud. For example the Benefit Fraud hotline, a telephone service, receives over 500 cases a day. We estimate that there is only one prosecution for every fifty reports. Cases are given to different teams dealing with administrative errors, a general investigating team and a team that specialises in more serious crime.
Claimants will usually receive a letter requesting they attend for interview under caution. It is best to get advice immediately. We have case after case where they have a nice chat with the investigator. The investigator has a friendly manner and they feel reassured. Consequently they attend interview without a solicitor. They make admissions and are charged. The investigator has only one interest and that is to obtain evidence and if possible a confession. A Guardian reporter who was shadowing a benefits investigation team spoke to an investigator. He told them, “Our interviewing style is very friendly and conversational. We are very polite. We want customers to be chatty, to tell us what we need to know.”
Advice before interview
We provide legal aid and private advice. This is a crucial stage in the investigation. It is the best time to get advice as:
- The claimant can give a detailed account of what has happened.
- We can call the investigator and find out what the Benefit Fraud case is about. If necessary, we will rearrange the interview appointment.
- We will give advice on possible defences and a decision made whether to answer questions.
- It is a good time discuss how to stop the investigation with an offer of repayment or an administrative penalty.
We have stopped prosecution in several cases where the evidence is very strong. As a result we have also been able to conclude investigations by providing detailed explanations. Look through the cases on this website to see the variety of outcomes achieved.
An interview under caution is the first formal stage of the investigation. In preparation the solicitor will meet with the investigator before the interview. They will ask for as details of the allegation and to see any relevant documents. So as to progress matters the client then has a private meeting with the solicitor to decide on a course of action. There are three options available:
- We advise the client to make “no comment”.
- The solicitor drafts a prepared statement which sets out the client’s defence. We give this to the investigator. The client then makes no further comment.
- The questions are answered.
There is often a long wait whilst the investigators decide what to do. We can use this time to assess the case further and to explore different solutions We use our expert knowledge to calculate the actual over payment if any. Unsurprisingly our figures often come out at much less than the investigator claims. In some cases we have stopped a charge even after the DWP have, in principle, decided to prosecute.
There are alternatives to prosecution even where the sums are large. We can offer to repay. The DWP will not prosecute if the client agrees to an administrative penalty. This route can be attractive to clients wanting to keep a clean record for employment or to keep their reputations intact.
The case will start with a summons. This is sent to the clients address. A charge may be of two types, summary only matters dealt with in the Magistrates Court or either way offences which can be tried in either the Crown Court or the Magistrates Court. In such cases the court will indicate which court it thinks suitable. If the court indicates it is suitable for the magistrates to hear then the client can still decide to ask for it to be heard in the Crown Court before a Judge and Jury.
However when a client wants to fight the case we will collect evidence, prepare witness statements and instruct advocates. Sometimes we try to divert the case from court. We will write to the DWP to suggest payment of a civil penalty.
if you have received a letter or believe that you are under investigation.Call our Benefits Fraud solicitors Keith Hollywood or Laura O’Brien.