Millions of people are warned that evidence could be gathered against them if they are suspected of fraud. The government is said to lose huge amounts of money every year due to fraudulent claims for benefits in the UK, and authorities have announced plans to tackle unfair claims, the Daily Record reports.
The Department of Work and Pensions received approximately £510 million from the UK government to help it crack down on universal credit fraudsters who lie about their benefits claims. Funds were released after figures showed that the DWP prevented at least £1.9 billion in fraud during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the plans, the money will now be used to improve the department’s capacity and capacity to detect and prevent benefit fraud and to catch fraudsters across the country. About 2,000 trained specialists assess claims by conducting property checks, following up on self-employed claimants’ income statements and verifying bank records. Ministers hope the crackdown will recover more taxpayers’ money. For all the latest news and tips on benefits, money saving and finance delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here for our WalesOnline Money newsletter twice a week.
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What is benefit fraud?
The DWP definition of benefit fraud is when “a person receives state benefits to which they are not entitled or intentionally fails to report a change in their personal circumstances.”
The most common form of benefit fraud is when someone receives unemployment benefits while working. Another is when plaintiffs state that they live alone but are financially supported by a partner or spouse.
Failure to inform the state of a “change of circumstances”, for example that your spouse now lives with you, or that you have moved, or that a family member has died and left you some money, could also be seen as “fraud by absenteeism’.
Being accused of fraud by the DWP can be stressful enough, but the thought of being investigated by officials without really knowing why can lead to undue worry. Many detectives wear civilian clothes and can show up to your home or work at any time, which can be scary.
But some knowledge of DWP studies can make all the difference so that you can live your life as normally as possible while an investigation is underway. Benefit fraud usually occurs when someone has applied for benefits to which they were deliberately not entitled, for example by failing to report a change in circumstances or by providing false information.
Common examples of benefit fraud include:
- pretending an illness or injury to get unemployment or disability benefits
- failure to report income from a business or work to make the income appear lower than it actually is
- living with someone who contributes to the family income without reporting that income to the authorities
- fake bills to make it look like someone has less money than they say
In any circumstance, the DWP needs proof that a person is receiving a benefit (eg a tax credit or a benefit) to which they would not normally be entitled.
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What happens during a DWP study?
If the DWP is going to launch a formal investigation against you, they will notify you in writing, by phone, or by email – usually by post. When you are notified, you will also be told if you will be visited by a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO), or if they need you for an interview.
In the early stages of an investigation, you may not be notified that one is pending until the DWP has assessed whether there is good cause to formally investigate a potential fraud case. Many tips and reports turn out to be false, so the DWP wants to make sure they don’t waste their time on a pointless investigation.
Once there is sufficient evidence of possible fraud, the DWP will launch an official investigation and notify you. DWP investigators are allowed to gather many types of evidence against a potentially fraudulent claimant.
The most common types of evidence are:
- inspectors reports of surveillance activities
- photos or videos
- audio recordings
- financial data, including bank statements
- interviews with you or people you know
- any evidence submitted by those who reported you
A common form of benefit fraud is falsely reporting income or not reporting it at all. If you’re applying for unemployment benefits but are seen in 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 do, and how much you’re being paid.
Researchers can also check your social media accounts and search your online profiles for photos, location check-ins, and other evidence that may or may not be helpful to them. Those who use social media a lot leave a trace of their lives and habits, often allowing researchers to build a picture of what that person’s life really is like. If it doesn’t match the details of that person’s claim for benefits, that evidence could eventually be used against them.
What if I was incorrectly registered with the DWP?
False reports of benefit fraud are common in the UK, with some studies showing that about 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 falsely reported for malicious reasons could end up being prosecuted.
If you are concerned about a current or future DWP investigation against you or someone you care about, it may help to seek advice from a legal expert. Burgers Advies may be able to help you if you need it.