Benefit fraud success – administrative penalty given in £9000 overpayment case
Our client was charged with Benefit Fraud namely a failure to notify a change of circumstances which he knew would affect his entitlement to ESA, The allegation covered two separate periods with a 5 month gap between them. The DWP issued a summons detailing a single benefit fraud charge of failure to report a change in circumstances over a 20 month period. The sum overpaid was nearly £9000 and we had no success on our first attempt to negotiate an administrative penalty. We have successfully resolved many benefit fraud cases under (aqnd over) £5000 with the administrative penalty procedure.
Preparing the case
Our clients position was a difficult one. He had omitted to report income and on the face of the evidence was guilty of benefit fraud as charged. A conviction would have serious consequences for his future employment prospects and he was likely to lose his current position.
A prosecution for an offence under s112 of the Social Security Act must be brought within 12 months of the offence becoming known to the DWP. This is because it is a summary offence which can only be tried in the Magistrates Court. The first period during which our client failed to inform the DWP of his increased income was well over 12 months before the summons was issued.
When the case was first listed for hearing we applied for an adjournment to make further representations as follows:
- There were two distinct periods of failing to disclose
- There should therefore be two separate charges
- If there are two separate charges then the DWP could not issue a summons for the first period as it was over 12 months since it came to their attention
- That left only the second period with a value of about £4000 which we submitted was suitable for an administrative penalty
- The crown’s case is based on omission not fraudulent behaviour
- Our client has no convictions, cautions, reprimands or other warnings
- Our client’s family would pay off the full amount owing.
- A conviction, would devastate his employment prospects and thus ensure a long-term reliance on sickness benefit.
- We submitted that the public interest was best served by the immediate repayment of all money owed to the DWP.
When we next attended court the prosecution agreed that they would proceed with an administrative penalty in place of the benefit fraud charges. They would withdraw the criminal proceedings once the administrative penalty had been paid.