Benefit fraud - the cost and results

One of the strategic responsibilities of the Department is the administration of social security benefits. The Department pays benefit to those who are entitled and has a responsibility to detect and investigate benefit fraud and customer error.

The cost of benefit fraud

It is estimated in 2020, £65.2 million of public money was lost through benefit fraud. This figure is made up of:

  • £18 million – Employment and Support Allowance
  • £2 million – Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • £7 million – State Pension Credit
  • £2 million – Carer’s Allowance
  • £15 million – Universal Credit
  • £18 million – Housing Benefit


We have a team of dedicated fraud investigators who work across Northern Ireland. Our investigators have a variety of tools and powers at their disposal to help them detect benefit fraud. These include:

  • the wide use of data matching, both between our own computer systems and with those of other government departments such as HMRC
  • the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which allows investigators to conduct covert surveillance on suspected fraudsters
  • powers introduced by the Social Security Fraud Act (NI) 2001 which require third parties, such as banks, credit card companies, utility companies and educational establishments, to provide information that could help detect benefit fraud when requested to do so by investigators
  • co-operation with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland’s Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to reduce the opportunities for and to detect cross border fraud
  • the increased use of intelligence and analysis to identify fraud trends which allows us to effectively focus resources on those areas most at risk to fraud
  • powers introduced by the Social Security Administration (Northern Ireland) Act 1992 enabling authorised officers to obtain information from employers.

Benefit fraud investigators are highly trained in all aspects of fraud detection and have a nationally-accredited fraud investigation qualification.

In the 12 months from April 2019 to March 2020

  • 2,400 investigations were concluded
  • £7.9 million in overpaid benefits identified - this money has to be repaid to the Department

During the same period:

  • 155 administrative penalties (similar to a fine) were issued
  • 211 people were successfully convicted for benefit fraud
  • 7 people received a simple caution

Sentences handed down by the courts included custodial sentences, suspended prison sentences, probation orders, community service orders and monetary fines. A conviction results in a person having a criminal record.

The cost of customer error

It is estimated in 2020 23.1 million was lost through customer error.

Customer Compliance and Case Cleanse

Customer Compliance Officers

The Department has a team of Customer Compliance Officers who conduct interviews to ensure a customer’s circumstances are up to date and detect and correct overpayments as a result of Customer Error.

During 2019-20, over 3,000 Compliance interviews were undertaken resulting in changes to benefit in 42% of cases and led to £7.4 million in benefit adjustments.

Case Cleanse Officers

The Department’s Case Cleanse Centres aim to remove Customer Error from legacy benefits by carrying out targeted checks on Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, and Employment and Support Allowance cases, primarily using HMRC real time earnings and pension income data.

In 2019-20, Case Cleanse Centres reviewed over 25,000 cases leading to estimated monetary value of adjustments totalling £13.4 million.


In all cases, customers are required to repay the amount of money they received incorrectly.

Financial investigations

The Financial Investigation Unit was established in 2005. It uses powers granted under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002 to trace and recover money by way of Confiscation Orders in serious benefit fraud cases. In the 12month period April 2019 to March 2020 Financial Investigation Unit was successful in obtaining confiscation orders to the value of £44k, and voluntary payments totaling £119k.

Fraud costs

It is your money that is being stolen and with your help it can be prevented reduced and recovered.

Remember – 'beating fraud is everyone’s business'

Help us to protect your money

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