If the investigators believe they have enough evidence to prove that you have committed benefit fraud, they may refer your case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). As a general rule, cases will be referred if:
However, there are a range of alternatives to criminal prosecution that the investigators will also consider. These include applying an Administrative Penalty (usually a percentage of the total benefit obtained) or issuing a Formal Caution. They also have the option of taking no further action and closing the case if they consider that it would not be in the public interest to proceed.
As experienced benefit fraud solicitors can make representations with a view to persuading the investigators to take one of the more informal steps and avoid a full prosecution, meaning that our clients may not be burdened with a heavy penalty and a criminal record. It is vital to get the right legal advice at an early stage in order to obtain the best possible outcome.
If the decision is made to prosecute then you will receive a summons in the post. It will often be accompanied by supporting statement and documentary exhibits. All cases start in the magistrates’ court but some may go up to the Crown Court if the charges are sufficiently serious. In certain circumstances, the person who is charged can decide in which court they want their case to be heard. This decision is a very important one and you should consult a solicitor before making it. It can make all the difference between a guilty or not guilty verdict, and, if the verdict is guilty, the severity of the sentence.
The benefit rules can be extremely complex and you will need to take on a specialist legal advisor to assist them throughout the case. They can look at the evidence and advise on the best approach, and may be able to reduce the amount of money that the investigators say has been obtained fraudulently.
If you are found guilty of fraud, you will get a criminal record and will be sentenced. The sentences range from a fine to community punishment or imprisonment. You may also be required to pay the prosecution’s costs.
There are maximum sentences for common benefit fraud offences. For dishonestly making a false statement to obtain benefit, or dishonestly failing to report a change of circumstances, the maximum sentence is up to 7 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine and/or costs.
For knowingly making a false statement to obtain benefit, or knowingly failing to report a change of circumstances, the maximum sentence is up to 3 months in prison for each offence (maximum of 6 months in total) and/or a maximum £5,000 fine and/or costs.
Your legal advisors can make representations with a view to reducing the severity of the sentence you are given.