The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is on alert against benefit fraud as the pandemic continues to hit the economy.
With more and more people claiming Universal Credit, the DWP will investigate any benefit fraud, with the most common being when a person receives unemployment benefits while working.
Another is when the receivers of benefits claim that they live alone, but they are financially supported by a partner or spouse, reports the Daily Record.
DWP investigators can carry out probes without the claimant even knowing.
Usually, benefits-related fraud occurs where someone has claimed benefits to which they were not entitled on purpose, such as by not reporting a change in circumstances or by providing false information.
Common examples of benefits fraud include:
- faking an illness or injury to get unemployment or disability benefits
- failing to report income from a business or employment to make income seem lower than it actually is
- living with someone who contributes to the household income without declaring that income to the authorities
- falsifying accounts to make it seem like a person has less money than they say they do
But in each case, the DWP will need evidence that an individual is claiming a benefit they are not entitled to and investigators are able to utilise powers such as surveillance, interviews, and document tracing in order to gain this evidence.
However, if you are under investigation, you won’t know the full details until afterwards – which may be in court if you are charged.
Investigations can be launched following a report from a member of the public but the DWP has its own means of detecting fraud which means that anyone can be investigated at any time.
If a formal investigation is going to be launched against you then the DWP will inform you of this – usually through the post – and you will also be told whether you are to receive a visit from a Fraud Investigation Officer (FIO), or whether you need to attend an interview.
Investigators for the DWP are allowed to retrieve various types of evidence, including:
The most common types of evidence are:
- inspector reports from surveillance activities
- photographs or videos
- audio recordings
- financial data, including bank statements
- interviews with you or people you know
- any evidence submitted by those who reported you
One common form of benefit fraud is falsely reporting income, or failure to report it altogether.
If you’re claiming unemployment benefits but are seen to attend a workplace, the DWP may talk to the owner or manager of that business to find out exactly why you are there, what work you are doing and how much you are being paid.
Investigators may also check your social media accounts and search your online profiles for pictures, location check-ins, and other evidence which may or may not be useful to them.
Those who use social media a lot will leave a trail of their life and habits, often allowing investigators to piece together a picture of what that person’s life actually looks like.
If this is not consistent with the details of that person’s claim for benefits, that evidence may end up being used against them.
What if I am falsely reported to the DWP?
False reports of benefit fraud are common in the UK, with some studies indicating there are around 140,000 made each year.
Until the DWP determines that there is no case against you, there is little you can do. Co-operate as best as you can and remember that those found to have reported falsely through malicious reasons may end up being prosecuted.
If you are concerned about a current or future DWP investigation against you or someone you care about, seeking advice from a legal expert could help.
Citizens Advice may also be able to offer free and impartial advice, you can contact them here.