Benefit fraud

February 19th, 2016 by James Goudie KC

A DWP Consultation, for response by 31 March 2016, seeks views on a revised “Social Security Fraud Act 2001 Code of Practice on Obtaining Information”. The current Code is from 2002.  The Welfare Reform Act 2007 (Sections 46 to 48) extended local authority investigation powers to enable local authorities to investigate and prosecute fraud against certain DWP benefits alongside offences committed against Housing and Council Tax Benefit. These sections commenced in April 2008 and empower local authorities to investigate and prosecute certain DWP benefits providing there is a linked Housing/Council Tax Benefit claim. The required changes have been incorporated into Appendix 3 of the Code.

The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Sections 122 and 123) extended the definition of social security benefits to include tax credits and child tax credits, for the purposes of Sections 109A (Authorisations for investigators) and Section 109B (Power to require information) of the Administration Act, when investigating benefit offences. These Sections commenced in April 2013, therefore tax credits and child tax credits are treated as social security benefits and are subject to those provisions and the revised Code.

Other amendments due to operational changes in the DWP have been incorporated into the Code, mainly the creation of DWP’s Fraud and Error Service, which will enable a single fraud investigation to be undertaken to investigate all social security benefits, including those currently administered by local authorities and HMRC. The reference to local authority powers in the Code is relevant whilst individual local authorities still have Authorised Officers or investigation staff undertaking social security benefit fraud investigations. Once a local authority benefit investigation team transfers into DWP that local authority will no longer be bound by the Code.

There are changes to the layout of the Code, with the aim of making it clearer and simpler to use. This includes the introduction of five new appendices providing the more detailed information on who can be required to provide information, examples of the type of information that may be requested, when and about whom may Authorised Officers require information, details to be included in requests for information, and contact details

The Code outlines the important safeguards that exist and penalties against misuse of the powers, including confidentiality, security and data retention arrangements, and legal professional privilege.

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