Benefit fraud costs the Northern Ireland taxpayer millions of pounds every year. If you think someone is committing benefit fraud, you can report them and stop them taking money from the people who need it most.
Reporting benefit fraud
The law says there has to be a good reason for investigating someone for benefit fraud, so you will need to give as much of the following information as possible:
- the name and address of the person you are reporting and their partner, if they have one
- a description of the person
- the type of benefit fraud you think they are committing and why you suspect them
- information about their employer if you think they are working
- information about their vehicle, if they have one
- any other information that you may feel will aid the investigation
How to report benefit fraud
You can do this by online, by phone or in writing. If you prefer, you can provide information anonymously.
Complete an online form
Call the Benefit Fraud Hotline
Send information by post
- Write to the Benefit Security Division
What happens when you report fraud
Benefit fraud investigation staff will look at the information you give. If you have given enough information they will check the person’s benefit claim.
An investigation can take some time and benefit fraud investigation staff are not allowed to tell you the outcome.
Sometimes no action is taken after an investigation. In many cases the person suspected of benefit fraud has already declared they are, or have been, working when claiming benefits and their benefit is not affected by this.
The outcome of benefit fraud investigations can result in a criminal record and recovery of any benefit which could result in the confiscation of assets to the value lost through fraud.
Consequences of benefit fraud
If you're suspected of committing benefit fraud you may be asked to go to an interview to discuss your claim. Your benefit may be suspended while the matter is investigated. If this happens, you should receive a letter letting you know.
After the investigation
Once officers have collected facts about your case, a decision will be made on whether to take further action. If there’s evidence you have or are committing benefit fraud:
- you may be prosecuted, resulting in a fine or prison sentence
- you may be asked to pay a penalty as an alternative to prosecution
- you may receive a formal caution
- your benefit may be reduced or withdrawn
- your assets may be confiscated
In all cases you will be asked to repay the overpaid benefit.
Overpayment of benefits – administrative penalties
If you've been paid too much benefit this is called an overpayment. It's treated as benefit fraud if you have:
- deliberately withheld information from your benefits office
- given false information that may lead to you receiving benefits you're not entitled to
The administrative penalty that can be applied is 50 per cent of the overpayment. For example, if you were overpaid by £900 you would have to pay a penalty of £450. However, there is a minimum penalty that can be applied of £350 and the maximum penalty is £2,000.
If it is believed someone has attempted to commit benefit fraud, a fixed penalty of £350 can be considered as an alternative to prosecution.
You need to tell a benefits office if your circumstances change so it can make sure you are getting the right amount of money. This will help prevent any overpayment.
Loss of benefits
Depending on the severity of the benefit fraud committed and if you have any previous benefit fraud convictions, your benefits could be stopped for 13 weeks, 26 weeks or a maximum of three years.
For the most serious cases involving organised or identity fraud, there will be an immediate loss of benefit for three years.
Benefits which can be withdrawn or reduced are called sanctionable benefits. These include but are not limited to:
- Employment and Support Allowance
- Housing Benefits
- Incapacity Benefit
- Income Support
- Jobseeker's Allowance
- Pension Credit
- Universal Credit
Only sanctionable benefits can be reduced or stopped. Some benefits are not sanctioned but instead called disqualifying benefits.
These include but are not limited to:
- Retirement Pension
- Disability Living Allowance
- Attendance Allowance
- Personal Independence Payment
If fraud is committed against one of these benefits it may lead to a penalty against a benefit which can be sanctioned.
If you commit benefit fraud and you’re on any of the following benefits, none of your benefits can be stopped or reduced:
- Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme (2008)
- Health in Pregnancy Grant
- Maternity Allowance
- Pneumoconiosis (Workers’ Compensation) 1979
- Statutory Adoption Pay
- Statutory Maternity Pay
- Statutory Paternity Pay
- Statutory Sick Pay
How your benefit claim is checked for benefit fraud
The information you give to support your claim is checked to make sure it's right. This is used to work out how much benefit you may be entitled to.
Checks about your claim can be made at any time, not just when you first make a claim. Sometimes a spot check is made on everyone getting a certain benefit or on a particular group of people who claim.
To prevent yourself from being suspected of benefit fraud, you need to make sure the information you give is up-to-date and accurate. You will need to keep in touch with your benefits officer to make sure the information they have about you is right.
Routine checks on your benefit claim
When you make a claim, benefits officers will make enquiries to check the information you have given is accurate.
What you've said or written on the claim form may be compared with records about you held by another government agency. For example, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) may be asked if you are working and paying tax or to confirm the earnings you have stated.
Information about you may also be shared with the Housing Executive and Land & Property Services who must check claims before administering Housing Benefit.
Providing evidence to support your claim
You may be asked to support your claim with evidence of your income or details of anything you own, such as your house or other property.
You'll also need to give your National Insurance number or apply for one if you don't have one. If you can't remember your National Insurance number, you will be asked for information (for example, your date of birth and address) so your National Insurance number can be found.
If a discrepancy is found in your claim
If enquiries about you don't match the details in your claim, authorised officers may ask you to go to an interview to discuss the matter.
Your claim can't be paid until these checks are complete so it's important you go to the interview and reply quickly to any letters about the investigation.
Detailed checks on your benefit claim
If benefit officers believe there is serious fraud, authorised officers will investigate your claim in more detail. They may gather information about you and your family members, and compare it with information already given on claim forms or in interviews.
Officers may contact private and other public organisations that hold information on you including:
- building societies
- credit providers
- credit card companies
- money transmission companies
- insurance companies
- credit reference agencies
- education providers
- gas and electricity providers
- telecoms companies including mobile phone companies
- the Student Loans Company
- government agencies, including HMRC
- overseas authorities
Officers can only make enquiries where they have reasonable grounds to believe you’re committing benefit fraud or are helping someone else to do so.
Personal information and your rights
The Department for Communities collects and keeps information about you and about any benefits you claim. It's allowed by law to cross check this information and share it with certain other organisations.
You have a right, by law, to know what personal information is held about you by organisations. It's enforced by the Information Commissioner.
Where to get advice
If you’re worried about being suspected of benefit fraud, you may want to get independent advice.
If you’re facing prosecution for benefit fraud, being asked to pay a penalty as an alternative to prosecution or facing a formal caution, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice from a solicitor or talk to an experienced adviser.
The Law Society of Northern Ireland provides a list of Northern Ireland solicitors and the services they provide.