Benefit fraud offences
There are two main offences that are prosecuted in relation to benefit fraud, one involves dishonesty, the other does not.
The dishonesty offence
It is an offence to dishonestly make a representation in order to obtain benefits, for example not declaring that you are working or have savings. This includes a dishonest failure to promptly notify a change in circumstances, as well as making a claim that is dishonest at the start.
The offence without dishonesty
It is an offence to knowingly make a false statement to obtain benefit. Again, this can be in an initial claim for benefits or failing to give prompt notification of a change in circumstances.
What does this actually mean?
The following definitions are given:
- Dishonesty – has its normal meaning in criminal offences. Although the lesser offence does not require dishonesty, it does require proof of knowingly failing to notify. The test for dishonesty was recently revisited by the Supreme Court and the result may well be that it is now easier to prosecute for a dishonesty-related offence.
- Change in circumstances – there must be proof that the offender knew there was a change of circumstances and that the change would have affected a change in benefit. Examples of a change in circumstances include starting to live with a partner, getting a job or a winning the lottery.
- Promptly notify – prompt is to be given its natural meaning and is a matter of fact. It is for the prosecution to prove that it was not prompt. It is therefore essential to explore all of the surrounding circumstances as this may provide a defence, not only mitigation.
Are there other offences?
There are other offences of fraud and false accounting related to benefits that are not covered in this article.
What is the likely sentence?
The non-dishonesty offence an only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court and carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 3 months.
The offence involving dishonesty can be dealt with at the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court and carries a maximum of seven years imprisonment.
The main factors for consideration in sentencing will be the length of time of the overpayment, the value of benefits overpaid, and whether or not the claim was dishonest from the outset.
A claim that is of high value, over a sustained period and which was dishonest from the beginning is more likely to attract a term of imprisonment.
How can we help?
An investigation into possible benefit fraud often starts with a letter asking you to attend for an interview under caution. The interview is very important; what you say in the interview can be used against you at Court, but it can also lead to an out of court disposal, such as a caution or an administrative penalty, or no action being taken against you. In many cases we are able to attend the interview with you.
You can find out more about how Camden Council deals with benefit fraud here.
What if I have to go to Court?
Prosecutions for benefit offences frequently generate vast quantities of paperwork. We have a great deal of experience in considering such evidence, and our involvement may mean a lesser value is given to the overpayment which can have a direct impact on the potential sentence.
We can also assess any possible defences that may be available to you. Expert advice is crucial if you would like to discuss any aspect of your case. Please contact John Howey, on 020 7388 1658 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.