Legal Advice for Benefit Fraud Investigations
Benefit fraud is a highly specialised area of law, which is often neglected by other law firms. Our reputation in this narrow field is based on our track record. As well as challenging convictions on judicial review we can help clients avoid prosecution by persuading the investigating agencies not to take a case to court.
Many of our clients come to us because they are dis-satisifed with the advice they have received from other legal advisors. Clients should be particularly wary of non legally qualified practitioners working in this area. In particular we recommend caution towards anyone who advises clients never to attend or answer questions at an interview. Read our client guide to find out why or contact us for a confidential consultation.
You can check if your advisor is qualified by speaking to the Law Society or the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
We can assist you with enquiries concerning:
- Income Support and Housing Benefit
- Job seekers allowance (contribution and non contribution based)
- Employment Support Allowance (replaces Incapacity benefit)
- Disability Living Allowance
- Pension Credits
- Child Benefit
- Child Tax Credits
- Working Tax Credits
Read our Client Guide to Benefit Interviews (February 2015) for more information about your rights.
Why do I need a Lawyer?
Benefit fraud investigations and prosecutions are mainly instigated by Local Borough Councils and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). The relevant provisions are highly technical and those under investigation should seek expert advice.
Benefit Fraud Interviews
The first time you will be aware of the investigation is when the agency write to you asking you to attend an interview. You will be told that you have the right to be represented by a lawyer and there is legal aid funding available for this.
• However the investigation process begins well before the interview.
• By the time the interview takes place the agency will have obtained most of the information/evidence relevant to their case. In certain cases they may even have conducted surveillance evidence.
• At the interview you will be asked questions about your benefit claims. Yur lawyer will advise you on how to respond.
• After the interview you may receive an overpayment letter stating how much you owe. At this stage you must consult a lawyer as you have a month to appeal this decision.
• Your file may be sent to the CPS or prosecuting agency for a decision on whether to prosecute.
Alternatives to Prosecution
Specialist advice is essential to anyone accused of an overpayment or benefit fraud.
The agency investigating a case will have its own policy setting when an individual should be prosecuted or offered an alternative to prosecution.
An experienced lawyer, familiar with the benefit fraud prosecuting policies of the investigating agencies, we may be able to intervene and persuade the not to proceed.
What are the Alternatives to Prosecution?
The Council and DWP have various sanctions available to them in the event that it has been established that an offence has been committed.
1. No Action
This is a very rare sanction which is only ever utilised if the Council/DWP concede that the overpayment in benefits resulted from an official error.
Cautions are now only available to local borough councils. A caution for the purposes of a benefit fraud investigation is not a formal police caution and will therefore NOT appear on a CRB check.
3. Administrative Penalty
An administrative penalty (Ad Pen) is an offer to pay a financial penalty.
When Will an Alternative to Prosecution Be Considered?
You should consult a lawyer for specialist advice. The factors that are relevant vary from case to case and every agency has a different policy.
Appeals Against Overpayment
If you are not being prosecuted but are asked to repay an overpayment we can help you reduce that figure, often substantially. It is important that you seek legal help as early as possible if this is the case. Call us on our 24 hour helpline.
Case studies include:
Claimant B, whilst in receipt of benefits received a gift of money from a close relative which she failed to declare to the authorities. B worked as a foster carer and had also opened bank accounts for the children in her care which she did not disclose to the authorities.
B was prosecuted for failing to declare capital contrary to Section 111A of the Social Security Administration Act 1992. B pleaded guilty but was sentenced to a conditional discharge with no additional penalty. The over payment was in excess of £6,000.
Claimant C came to England having sought political asylum.C had failed to declare a payment in excess of £50,000 she had received for professional work whilst claiming Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Income Support.
C attended an interview with the DWP and the Local Authority.
B was not prosecuted and was ordered to repay the amount that she had over claimed. The over payment in this case was in excess of £20,000.
What Can Go Wrong?
Claimant D went to see an unqualified "legal" advisor he had found on the internet. He was quoted a fixed fee of £3000 for writing a letter to the investigating agency after he had been summonsed for an fraud interview. Claimant D was told by his "advisor" not to attend the interview. We took over the case and began negotiating immediately with the authorities concerned.