Authorised Officer's Code of Conduct

 

Benefit fraud is estimated to cost the taxpayer at least £2 billion per year.  Fraud due to people working whilst claiming various benefits, or failing to declare they have a partner living with them who is working, forms a significant part of the overall level of fraud experienced.  Obtaining information is necessary if we are to ensure taxpayers' money goes to those for whom it is intended.

The powers to obtain information are not intended to place additional burdens on business, but to reduce the overall burden on society.  Everyone, therefore, has an interest in providing information to their Local Authority and the DWP so that fraud can be detected and prevented.

This Code of Practice is binding on the activities of Authorised Officers employed by South Somerset District Council, and DWP staff that operate these procedures under sections 109B and 109C of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (SSAA), and regulations 4 and 5 of the Council Tax Reductions Scheme (Detection of Fraud and Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013 (CTRSR).

This Code has been provided to you should you be required to provide information to South Somerset District Council.

It seeks to help you understand your duties under these powers, and explain what you can expect of the officers making enquiries under the provisions of section 109B and 109C SSAA and regulations 4 and 5 of CTRSR.

It is aimed at encouraging compliance and co-operation.  Where the requirements of this Code are not met, grounds for complaint may arise.  Information about how to complain is contained in this Code of Practice (see section 9).

Beating Fraud is everyone's business.  Everyone must work together if that aim is to be achieved.

 

1) INTRODUCTION

1.1  This Code of Practice explains the powers of Authorised Officers, their limitations and the responsibilities and rights of those from whom we may seek information, as defined in the legislation.  Authorised Officers are required to carry out their enquiries in accordance with this Code of Practice.

1.2  Authorised Officers of South Somerset District Council should issue this Code of Practice to people from whom they require information under sections 109B and 109C of SSFA and regulations 4 and 5 of CTRSR.  It explains the powers of the Local Authority and therefore assists Officers in their enquiries.  It should be issued with written enquiries, carried by officers visiting employment premises and made available at the main Council offices, to the public who wish to consult it.  It is also available on the South Somerset District Council website.

1.3  The obligation to provide information is detailed in sections 110A, 109B and 109C of the Social Security Administration Act 1992

1.4  There is also an obligation to provide information under regulations 4 and 5 of the Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Detection of Fraud and Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013 (SI501 of 2013)

1.5  These powers are only for use in relation to enquiries for the purpose described in section 110A of SSAA and regulation 3 of CTRSR, from specific people and organisations, as defined in sections 109B and 109C of SSAA and regulation 4 and 5 of CTRSR

 

2) AUTHORISED OFFICERS

2.1  Under section 110A SSAA and regulation 3 CTRSR, a Local Authority administering benefit, or their agents, may authorise their officers or an officer of another Government Department to exercise section 109B and 109C SSAA and regulation 4 and 5 CTRSE powers.  Officers who do not have this authorisation may not make enquiries under these powers.

2.2  Authorised Officers are required to act reasonably in seeking information from individuals and organisations that may hold information necessary to Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Council Tax Reduction enquiries.  This means that they must act in an appropriate way given the circumstances of the case.  The resultant actions taken by Authorised Officers should be ones that would stand up to the scrutiny of Court or other independent body.

2.3  If the course of action carried out, or proposed by the Authorised Officer, was not considered to be reasonable, it should be raised at once with the Authorised Officer.  If this does not satisfy the concerns raised the complaints procedure set out in this Code may be applied. 

 

3) WHAT THESE POWERS ARE USED FOR

3.1  Authorised Officers use these powers to obtain information from certain people, to:

  • Ascertain in relation to any case whether a benefit is or was payable in accordance with any provision of the relevant legislation;
  • Ascertain whether provisions of the relevant social security legislation, Housing Benefit (General) Regulations or Council Tax (General) Regulations and Council Tax Reduction Scheme Regulations are being, have been or are likely to be contravened (whether by particular persons or more generally);
  • Prevent, detect and secure evidence of the commission (whether by particular persons or more generally) of benefit and council tax reduction offences.

3.2  An Authorised Officer can ask for information about individually named people or, in certain circumstances, the names and details of the whole workforce.  Requests for information can be made in writing or in the course of a visit.  The following are examples of the types of information that Authorised Officers might request, from an employer:

  • Names of Employees
  • Wage Details
  • Period of employment
  • Terms of employment (i.e. whether an employee, sub-contractor, or self employed)
  • Bank details
  • Staff/Payroll number
  • National Insurance Number
  • Home Address
  • Date of Birth
  • Next of kin/emergency contact details

This list is not exhaustive and there will be circumstances in which Authorised Officers will seek information not specifically listed here, which is relevant to their enquiries.  This will be determined by the circumstances of the investigation.

 

4)  WRITTEN REQUESTS FOR INFORMATION

4.1 Section 109B (1) of SSAA and Regulation 4(1) of CTRSR allows an Authorised Officer to write to or e-mail, any of the persons defined in section 109B (2) and regulation 4(2), listed below, to obtain information. 

      These people are:

  • Any person who is, or has been an employer or employee;
  • Any person who is, or has been a self-employed earner;
  • Any person who, under existing legislation, is treated as an employee, or self employed earner;
  • Any person who is carrying on, or has carried on, any business involving the supply of goods for sale to the ultimate consumers by individuals not carrying on retail business from retail premises;
  • Any person who is carrying on, or has carried on, any business involving the supply of goods or services by the use of work done or services performed by persons other than employees of his/hers;
  • Any person who is carrying on, or has carried on, an agency or other business for the introduction or supply of workers to others businesses or organisations;
  • Any local authority acting in their capacity as an authority responsible for the granting of any licence;
  • Any person who has been a trustee or manager of a personal or occupational pension scheme;
  • Any person who is or has been liable to make a compensation payment or a payment to the Secretary of State under section 6 of the Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Act 1997 (payments in respect of recoverable benefits); and
  • The servants and agents of any person as described above.

4.2 An Authorised Officer will only write to any of those persons defined above for information if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that benefit fraud or council tax reduction fraud is being, or has been, committed.  They will provide a written notice that sets out:

  • Who they are;
  • Their address;
  • What information they need;
  • The format in which they would like the information provided in; and
  • When they would like the information returned by.

4.3  The Authorised Officer may ask for original documents, photocopies of documents or extracts of documents (e.g. computer printouts etc) to be produced.  However, they will only request information they need and will take account of the burden this would place on the business, as well as their own needs. 

 

5) THE LEGAL DUTY TO PROVIDE INFORMATION REQUESTED

5.1 The power to request information is provided under the SSAA 1992, sections 109B and C and CTRSR regulation 4 and 5.

5.2  If an Authorised Officer writes to ask for information, recipients are legally obliged to provide it.  It should be provided in the form it has been requested and within the time specified.

5.3  If a recipient of such a request has difficulty meeting any part of a request for information, they may contact the Authorised Officer to explain why and make alternative arrangements for the provisions of the information.

5.4 The legal duty to provide information is not discharged until this has been done.

 

6) VERBAL REQUESTS FOR INFORMATION DURING A VISIT

6.1.  Under section 109C, an Authorised Officer may seek entry to any premises (including a home) where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that business or trade is being carried out.  They are also allowed to enter any premises (including a home) where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that documents relating to a trade or business are held.

6.2  An Authorised Officer may also seek entry to any premises:

  • From which personal or occupational pensions scheme is being administered or where documents relating to the administration of such a scheme are being held;
  • Where a person or someone acting on their behalf who has paid compensation in relation to an accident, injury or disease, is to be found.

6.3  Requests to enter such premises will only be made where the Authorised Officer has reasonable grounds to believe that benefit or council tax reduction scheme fraud is being or has been committed by one or more persons.

6.4  When visiting premises, the Authorised Officer will state who they are and will show their certificate of authorisation and identity card.

6.5  The authorisation allows the Officer to be accompanied by any persons or persons they think fit to accompany them, for the purpose of their visit.  If other persons are accompanying the Authorised Officer, they will be identified and all officers will carry identification, which will be presented for inspection.

6.6  Generally, Authorised Officers will give advance notice of their intention to visit.  However, in certain circumstances that is not always appropriate and visits may be made without prior notification.

6.7  Authorised Officers will only enter premises with consent (that is, from the owner, the occupier, or their representative). They will never try to force an entry and have no legal powers to do so.  If, after entry has been granted, the officers are asked to leave before they have completed their enquiries, they will do so.  However, where an Authorised Officer considers that such action has been taken to obstruct their enquiries or to conceal evidence, they will consider criminal proceedings.

6.8  Under section 111 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, it is an offence to intentionally delay or obstruct an Authorised Officer in the exercise of their powers under this act.

6.9  When visiting premises, an Authorised Officer and any person accompanying them, may inspect the premises and question, with the consent of the owner, occupier or their representative, anyone they find there.  They do not have the power to detain people.

6.10 The Authorised Officer may require anyone on the premises to produce documents, make photocopies of documents or extracts of documents or to create computer or other printouts.  An Authorised Officer will only seek access to records that are considered to be connected with payments, and employment details of employees, sub-contractors, recipients of commission payments, etc.

6.11  If absolutely necessary (for example because there is not a photocopier available), the Authorised Officer may lawfully remove documents form the premises visited.  The Authorised Officer will explain why this is necessary.  Any original documents that are removed will be returned as soon as possible.  A receipt will be given for any documents that need to be temporarily removed.

6.12  Documents will not be seized and removed by force.  They will only be removed with consent.

6.13 Currently, there is no provision to seek entry to a business premises under CTRSR

 

7) THE STATUTORY DUTY TO PROVIDE INFORMATION

7.1   No one is required to provide any information (whether documentary or otherwise) that tends to incriminate them, or if they are married, their spouse, or their partner if they have a civil partnership.

7.2  Otherwise, whether a request by an Authorised Officer is made in writing or verbally and in person, there is a statutory duty to provide that information, including any documentation that is requested.

7.3  Under section 111 of SSAA and regulation 6 of CTRSR, it is an offence to intentionally delay or obstruct Authorised Officers in the exercise of their powers of to refuse, or neglect, to

  • Answer any questions;
  • Furnish any information;
  • Produce any document.

when required to do so by an Authorised Officer. 

7.4  Obstruction includes circumstances where false or inaccurate information is provided in response to enquiries or extensive delays.

7.5  The Data Protection Act 1998 will not be contravened by providing the information requested by Authorised Officers.  Under section 35(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998 there is an exemption from the non-disclosure provisions, where a statutory duty, such as section 109B and 109C of the SSAA and regulations 4 and 5 of CTRSR requires the supply of information.

7.6  Section 111(2) of SSAA and regulation 6 (2) of CTRSR state that failure to fully comply with requests for information could result in criminal proceedings being instigated.  The maximum penalty is a fine, fixed at level 3.  This is currently set at £1,000, with a further penalty of £40 per day that the information requested is not provided. To confirm the current level of a level 3 fine please go to http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1982/48/section/37

7.7  If information is not provided, the Authorised Officer should explain the statutory powers and the potential consequences of non-compliance.

 

8) AT THE END OF ENQUIRIES

Where an Authorised Officer has made enquiries and obtained information, notification of any further action will be made as soon as possible.  Notification will also be given when an enquiry has been concluded.

 

9) COMPLAINTS

9.1  If you have grounds for any complaint regarding how an Authorised Officer has used their powers or the reasonableness of their actions when obtaining information arise, please write to the Fraud & Data Manager, South Somerset District Council, The Council Offices, Brympton Way, Yeovil, Somerset BA20 2HT.  Complaints may also be made by email to benefitsinvestigation@southsomerset.gov.uk or through the form on South Somerset District Council's website /contact-us/making-a-complaint/

9.2  Most complaints can be settled in this way and is the most effective way of addressing the issue.  However, if this does not provide a satisfactory outcome, the complaint will be passed to the Chief Executive Officer who will investigate the matter.

9.3  An acknowledgement of receipt of the complaint will be sent within 10 working days.

9.4  Independent legal advice may be sought at any time.  The Local Citizens Advice Bureau can assist in deciding whom to contact.  Their locations and telephone numbers can be found in the local telephone directory.

9.5  This does not affect the right to seek assistance from a Member of Parliament to refer a complaint to the independent Parliamentary Commissioner of Administration, commonly known as the "Ombudsman".  Further information is available from;

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (The Ombudsman)

19th Floor

Millbank Tower

Millbank

London

SW1P 4QP

Tel; 02072174163

Fax; 02072174160

http://www.lgo.org.uk/

 

Disclaimer

Please note this Code of Practice gives general guidance only and should not be regarded as a complete and authoritative statement of the law.  If you do not understand any of the contents of the Code you may wish to seek independent advice.

20/6/13