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Benefits are available to a wide range of people right across the country, and the DWP is responsible for ensuring the right people receive the correct amounts. However, many people may wish to note the DWP does have the power to carry out investigations into bank accounts, and potentially social media too. Both the DWP and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have the right to start an official investigation about a person.
Authorities are permitted to collect information about a person, including from their bank, under the Social Administration Act.
This occurs when there are suspicions of fraud which arise, something the government is keen to stamp out.
The departments can also share information with one another if they feel it may help in better understanding the situation.
Benefit fraud has unfortunately been a significant issue in Britain, and ensuring this does not occur is key in protecting those who do honestly claim.
Benefit fraud has been described by the DWP as when “someone obtains a state benefit they are not entitled to, or deliberately fails to report a change in their personal circumstances”.
There are a number of instances of benefit fraud which may be more familiar to the general public.
These include falsifying an illness in order to receive benefits, or failing to report income from employment to make it seem as if a person is receiving less money than they actually do.
If a person is suspected of benefit fraud, they will be contacted by the DWP, HMRC or the Service and Personnel and Veterans Agency.
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It may be the case that a person’s benefits will be stopped while the investigation occurs, although people should receive correspondence from the government if this is the case.
In addition, a person under investigation could also receive a visit from Fraud Investigation Officers (FIOs), who father facts about the case.
Those under suspicion could also be asked to attend an ‘interview under caution’, which could become part of a criminal investigation.
In these circumstances, the government has advised Britons to receive legal help on their case from a solicitor, legal adviser or Citizen’s Advice.
If the DWP suspects a potentially fraudulent claim, investigators are allowed to gather multiple types of evidence.
The most common of these include:
- inspector reports from surveillance activities
- photographs or videos
- audio recordings
- financial data such as bank statements
- copies of correspondence
- interviews with a person or people they know
- evidence submitted by anyone who reported a person
It may also be the case the DWP can use a person’s social media as a source of evidence against them if necessary.
This is because due to the prevalence of social media, using this as evidence could provide a bigger picture of a person’s life – and whether it matches the details of their benefits claim.
If a person is found guilty of committing or attempting fraud, a number of things could happen.
They may be told to repay the overpaid money, taken to court or asked to pay a penalty, or their benefits could be reduced or stopped.
The government explains benefits can be reduce or stopped for up to three years if a person is convicted of benefit fraud.
Unfortunately, false reports of benefit fraud are also quite prevalent, and it may be the case a person is not guilty at all.
However, unfortunately there is little which can be done before an investigation concludes and as a result Britons are advised to co-operate as best they can.
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