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Scottish benefit fraud

This advice applies to Scotland

This information is about fraud and benefits paid by Social Security Scotland. These are:

  • Best Start Grant - Pregnancy and Baby Payment, Early Learning Payment and School-Age Payment
  • Scottish Child Payment
  • Young Carer Grant
  • Funeral Support Payment
  • Child Winter Heating Assistance.

It doesn't cover fraud and Best Start Foods or Job Start Payment

It doesn't cover fraud in relation to Best Start Foods or Job Start Payment even though these are paid by Social Security Scotland. This is because the Best Start Food payment cards and Job Start Payment are issued under different law from the other Scottish benefits.

Read more about Best Start Foods
Read more about Job Start Payment

It doesn't cover fraud and Carer's Allowance Supplement

It doesn't cover fraud in relation to Carer's Allowance Supplement even though this is paid by Social Security Scotland. This is because the Carer's Allowance Supplement is only being paid until Social Security Scotland sets up a new Scottish replacement for Carer's Allowance.

Read more about Carer's Allowance Supplement.

It doesn’t cover the rules about fraud and benefits paid by other benefit authorities such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or local authorities. Read about fraud and benefits paid by other authorities.

What is Scottish benefit fraud

You might be committing fraud if:

  • you try to get a benefit by deceiving Social Security Scotland - for example, you give false or misleading information in your application or someone else does this for you
  • you don’t report a change in your circumstances - you don’t tell Social Security Scotland that your circumstances have changed, and you don’t have a good reason for this. The change must be something that Social Security Scotland has asked you to tell them about and you must know that it is likely to affect your benefit
  • someone else fails to report a change of circumstances for you - you make someone else not tell Social Security Scotland that something has changed. The change must be something that Social Security Scotland has asked you to tell them about and you must know that it is likely to affect your benefit.

Social Security Scotland should only investigate benefit claims for suspected fraud if it has a good reason. If you make a genuine mistake, you shouldn’t be accused of a criminal offence.

Who investigates Scottish benefit fraud

Staff who investigate benefit fraud are called 'counter-fraud officers'.

Counter-fraud officers investigate cases of suspected fraud by gathering evidence about what has happened. This evidence is then used to decide if you might have committed fraud.

What can counter-fraud officers do

Counter-fraud officers can gather evidence from:

  • publicly available sources - places that are available to everyone, such as the electoral roll, Registers of Scotland or the internet
  • other organisations - such as the DWP, HMRC, local councils, employers, banks or gas and electricity companies

  • witnesses - such as employers, work colleagues, family members, friends and neighbours

  • offices and other places - to make enquiries, question people or collect evidence. They have to get permission to enter and they can’t visit people’s homes

  • covert surveillance - such as watching you in person or online. This should only ever be a last resort and there are rules setting out how this can be done in a way that doesn’t breach your human rights.

When can a benefit fraud investigation take place

Social Security Scotland can investigate benefit fraud any time it comes across evidence of possible fraud. This could be several years after the suspected fraud took place.

Benefit fraud interviews

You won’t normally know you’re being investigated for benefit fraud at the start of the process. Counter-fraud officers will try to collect as much information as possible before telling you that you’re suspected of fraud. 

If counter-fraud officers think there’s enough evidence to suggest that you may have committed fraud, you’ll be invited to an interview. 

You’ll get a letter asking you to come to an 'interview under caution'. This means that you don’t have to say anything in the interview, but anything you do say could be used as evidence if you’re prosecuted for fraud.

You don't have to go to the interview. If you do go, you can provide an explanation of what has happened or challenge any of the evidence that has been gathered about you. 

The interview will be recorded.

You can choose to have someone with you in the interview, such as a friend, relative, advocate, welfare rights worker or legal representative. You don’t have to have anyone with you if you don’t want to, unless you have a disability or you're under 18.

You should get legal advice because benefit fraud is a criminal offence. You can have a solicitor with you at the interview. If you don’t have one to start with, you can ask to speak to a solicitor at any time during the interview. You might be able to get help with your legal costs.

If you have a  disability 

If you can’t understand what’s happening or have difficulty communicating because of a disability, Social Security Scotland must make sure that someone is with you in the interview to support you.

If you’re under 18

If you’re under 16, you can only be interviewed if a solicitor is with you.

If you’re 16 or 17, you can be interviewed without a solicitor if your parent or another responsible adult has said that it’s OK to go ahead without a solicitor.

What happens after a benefit fraud investigation

If there’s no evidence of fraud

If the counter-fraud officers decide there isn’t any evidence of fraud, the case will be closed.

If you didn’t know you were being investigated, you won’t be told. If you did know, you’ll be sent a letter to say that the investigation has been closed.

If there’s evidence of fraud

If the counter-fraud officers decide that there is evidence of fraud, the case will be passed to a decision maker in Social Security Scotland who deals with the benefit you claimed. That person will then decide if the benefit was paid correctly. 

If the benefit was paid correctly, nothing more will be done. Social Security Scotland will confirm this with you by letter.

If the benefit was paid incorrectly, the decision maker will decide if you should be asked to repay the money. If they decide you should repay it, you’ll be told in writing.

Read about overpayments of Scottish benefits to find out more about how this decision is made and what happens next.

If the benefit was paid incorrectly, the decision maker will also check if you’ve committed fraud. If you have, Social Security Scotland might report it to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). This is the organisation that decides if there should be a criminal prosecution.

If Social Security Scotland reports the case to COPFS, it will write to you to tell you. If COPFS decide to start a criminal case against you, you’ll need to get legal advice.

Criminal prosecution

If you’re prosecuted for fraud and found guilty, you could be given a prison sentence, a fine or both.

In the most serious cases, you could be sent to prison for up to five years.

Complaints

If you’re unhappy with the way you’ve been treated during a fraud investigation, you can complain to Social Security Scotland by phone or in writing:

Find out about Social Security Scotland’s complaints process.

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