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 £16.9 million in 2012.
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 and 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:
- 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 SSA 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: