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Tax Credit Benefit Fraud

Universal Tax Credit

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There are several official bodies that control the payment of tax credits and benefits, all of which are applicable in the instance of fraud. HMRC , The Department for Work and Pensions and an individual’s local council all fall under the bracket of official bodies that may instigate an investigation into a person’s tax credits or benefits if they appear to have been claimed under a fraudulent manner. If a person commits or is believed to have committed any of the fraudulent offences they can be investigated by the controlling bodies to establish whether there has been any fraudulent behavior. This can be to establish proof of misrepresentation or to prevent any instances of fraud taking place. Due to the serious nature of a fraud investigation, it is advised that a personal tax accountant is employed to perform a thorough investigation of the claims to prove that no offence has taken place.

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Tax credit fraud involves dishonestly obtaining excessive tax credit payments from HMRC through deception. This can include concealing a change in circumstances, failing to report income rises, living with a partner you claim not to, claiming for children who are not under your responsibility, continuing to take credits after leaving the UK or other forms of misrepresentation to gain extra entitlement. Fraud requires intent – genuine mistakes will not be treated as criminally fraudulent.

If HMRC can prove you fraudulently claimed tax credits you were not entitled to, the penalties can be severe. You will have to repay all overpayments plus interest and also face a penalty of up to 100% of the excess amounts gained by the fraud. Prosecution for serious cases could lead to criminal conviction, fines or imprisonment. HMRC also have powers to charge penalties on the tax credit payments of innocent partners who did not actively participate in fraud.

It may be possible to settle with HMRC prior to prosecution using the Contractual Disclosure Facility, where you admit to the fraudulent behaviour, agree to repay sums owed and receive contractual protection from criminal proceedings. However, settlements remain on file. Advice from specialist criminal tax defence advisers is essential before admitting any fraudulent intent.

Red flags that increase chances of being investigated include reporting self-employment income that stays just under the threshold for higher awards, frequent changes in children claimed for, partners splitting to get single person awards and periods living abroad while still claiming. Failing to notify changes in circumstances when required can also raise suspicions of deliberate fraud.

Contact HMRC immediately to explain this change in your status. As entitlements are reduced for couples, you will need to make arrangements to repay any amount overpaid since marrying. While many investigations involve serious fraud, if you self-declare an innocent error quickly the penalties are more likely to be restricted to repayment rather than fines or prosecution. Keep evidence you notified them promptly.

If you were unaware and not involved in someone else falsely claiming in your name, you should not face prosecution or fines when the fraud comes to light. However, HMRC can still seek repayment of the credits from you as the recipient of the payments. Gather evidence such as a new address, bills, bank statements etc to demonstrate you were innocent and estranged from the fraudulent partner making claims in your name.

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