Understanding benefit fraud

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 theft

Information you will need to report 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 one of three ways and you can provide us with this information anonymously if you prefer.

1. By calling the Benefit Fraud Hotline

Point of contact Benefit Fraud Hotline

  • phone:   0800 9756 050
  • textphone: 028 9055 6991 (for deaf and hard of hearing users only)
  • report a benefit thief online

Tax Credit Helpline

  • phone: 0345 300 3900
  • textphone: 0345 300 3909 (for deaf and hard of hearing users only)

2. By completing an online form on the Department for Work and Pensions website:

3. By Post

If you would prefer to make your report in writing, you can send information to:

Single Investigation Service
Lesley Exchange 1
24 East Bridge Street
Belfast
BT1 3NR

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.

Any investigation might take some time, and benefit fraud investigation staff are not allowed to tell you the outcome.

Sometimes no action is taken. It might be that the person has declared the work when claiming and their benefit is not affected by it.

The outcome of Benefit fraud investigations can result in a criminal record and recovery of any benefit which could be by means of confiscation of assets to the value lost through fraud.

Benefit fraud consequences

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 looked into. If this happens, you should receive a letter telling you so.

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 that you’re committing benefit fraud, one or more of the following may happen:

  • you may be prosecuted
  • 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:

From 4 April 2016, as part of the changes to the welfare system, stricter action can now be taken if you receive an overpayment as a result of benefit fraud.

The administrative penalty that can now be applied is 50% 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.

Loss of Benefits

From 26 September 2016, as part of the changes to the welfare system, stricter action can now be taken if you are found to be claiming any benefits fraudulently. 

Depending on the severity of the benefit fraud committed, and if you have any previous benefit fraud convictions or not, 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.

Sanctionable benefits

Benefits which can be withdrawn or reduced in this way 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

Disqualifying benefits

Disqualifying benefits are not sanctionable themselves, but benefit fraud offences involving them may lead to a loss of benefit sanction against other benefits.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Retirement Pension
  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Attendance Allowance

Some benefits, such as Statutory Sick Pay, are not involved in the Two Strikes sanction process at all.

Where to get advice

If you’re worried about being suspected of benefit fraud, you may want to get independent advice.

Legal 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 website provides access to a list of Northern Ireland Solicitors and a list of services they provide.

How your benefit claim is checked for benefit theft

Every year millions of pounds of public money is lost due to benefit fraud. In Northern Ireland, losses to benefit fraud were estimated at around £25.2 million in 2014.

Helping to defeat benefit fraud

The information you give to support your claim is checked to make sure it's right. This helps work out how much benefit you may be entitled to.

Checks can be made at any time, not just when you first make a claim. Sometimes a check is made on everyone getting a certain benefit or on a particular group of people who claim.

You can make sure you are not suspected of benefit fraud by making sure the information you give is up-to-date and accurate, and by working with your benefits officer when checks are made.

Routine checks on your benefit claim

At the beginning of your claim benefits officers will make enquiries to check the information you've 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're paying tax and working, or to confirm your stated earnings.

Information about you may also be shared with the Northern Ireland 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, for example, your income and capital.

You'll also need to give your National Insurance number, or apply for one if you don't have one. If you cannot 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.

What happens if a discrepancy is found in your claim?

If enquiries about you don't match what's 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 family members and then 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:

  • banks
  • 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.

The Data Protection Act 1998 gives you a right by law to know what personal information is held about you by organisations. It's enforced by the Information Commissioner - phone 01625 545 745 (lines are open from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, Monday to Friday, excluding bank holidays).

To find out more about how the Data Protection Act affects you, follow the link below from the Information Commissioner's Office website.

Where to get help

If you're concerned about checks on your benefit claim or being asked to give evidence, you can get help from organisations like the:

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