Duncan Lewis

Family Law

know matters can be both

highly sensitive and confusing

Welfare benefits and benefits fraud

Date: (7 March 2013)    |    

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Welfare benefits are payments made by the UK government to individuals or families who are on low incomes in order to provide a level of income to suffice their needs.

Benefits could be specific which could be of assistance to:

• Families
• Disabled and sick people
• Unemployed or people on low incomes
• People who have been bereaved and pensioners

Nationally billions of pounds of welfare benefits / tax credits go unclaimed every year such as winter fuel payments which are entirely dependant on age and not concerned with the income. Often people assume that they are getting everything they are entitled to, or their savings are too high for them to be entitled, or that further benefits may reduce the amount they already receive elsewhere.
However these assumptions are often wrong and many benefits can be paid, regardless of existing income and can even lead to an increase in the benefit level currently paid.

For those who want to apply for welfare benefits need to provide the requisite information to their local authorities to prove their eligibility for benefit claims.

Benefit fraud

Those who deliberately withhold information affecting their claims are said to be stealing and as such committing benefit fraud.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which handles benefit disbursements takes benefit theft very seriously. Although the vast majority of people who claim benefits are honest, those who defraud authorities to steal benefits are picking the pockets of law-abiding taxpayers the department says. In 2010-11 the amount lost in benefit fraud has been an estimated £1.2 billion from public funds, which the DWP is keen on stopping.

Jointly in combination with the Local Authorities (LA) and other government departments the DWP is working to cut down welfare frauds and plugging errors.

Once the person who is accused of benefit fraud is recommended by the Investigation Team Leader and the Investigating Officer to the relevant Council’s nominated officer for further action, adhering to the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The nominated officer of the relevant council decides whether to refer or not the case to the Head of Legal Services who is the final authority to make decision whether or not to initiate criminal proceedings against the accused.
The basic criteria to follow before a person is prosecuted are firstly, whether there is sufficient evidence and probability of conviction is real. Secondly, whether such action is in the public interest and finally whether an administrative penalty or formal caution would be sufficient disposal of the case.

Some actions which constitute benefit fraud are failing to give information with regard to:
• Correct household income
• Correct savings or capital
• Living with a partner or other adults under the same roof
• Owning other property or land
• A change in their domicile address
• Pretending to rent while owning a house or pretending to pay more rent then they actually do.
• Landlords continuing to accept housing benefits of tenants who have left
• Requesting an employer sign a form declaring the claimant earn less than what they actually do.

Together, any change in circumstances which may have subsequently occurred from the time they gave information to the authorities while applying for claim should be notified to the authorities and not doing so is an offence which entails criminal prosecution and in some instances facing prison sentence.

The general policy is that the councils considers each case on its own merits using set guidelines and even if their had been no financial gain attached to the fraud there could be prosecution or sanctions if the authorities see it appropriate.