Prosecutions for benefit fraud are on the increase, and this may in part be due to additional powers given to local authorities last year to enable them to have better access to personal information for investigators to gather evidence of fraud.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that almost 10,000 people were convicted of benefit fraud during 2012. This compares with 7,040 convictions during the same period in 2009-2010, which is the equivalent of a 40% rise.
Alternatives to a court prosecution are also on the rise, with administrative penalties almost doubling in number from the previous financial year. An administrative penalty is similar to a police caution in that it will stay on the local authority’s record should a subsequent fraud be committed. In addition, the offender is required to re-pay the amount of benefits overpaid as a result of the fraud together with a 30% uplift on that sum.
We would advise anyone suspected of benefit fraud to seek advice from a member of our Criminal Defence team as soon as possible. This will help to ensure that any alternatives to a court prosecution are explored. Furthermore, it is often the case that investigators seek information from suspected offenders prior to any formal interview or prosecution, and it is important that you seek in advance legal advice on the disclosure of such information.
If you have been invited for an interview with the local authority or Department for Work and Pensions regarding an allegation of benefit fraud, you are entitled to have legal representation there, in the same way as with a police interview, and you may also be entitled to Legal Aid for that, depending on your circumstances.
Alternatively, if you have received a summons to attend court, or if you have already been interviewed and are awaiting a decision as to how your case will be dealt with, please contact our Criminal Defence team for further information about how we can help.