Benefit fraud - Code of Conduct for Benefit Investigation Officers

Introduction

The citizens of Bassetlaw are entitled to expect the highest standards of conduct from all employees who work for the council. As such, our employees are bound by the Code of Conduct for employees which regulates matters including political neutrality, relationships with business contracts, hospitality and so on.

Over and above this, safeguards need to exist in specific disciplines of council work, often recommended by professional bodies. One such area is countering benefit fraud. This document relates therefore to Benefit Fraud Officers.


“There should be clear principles of good practice outlining how anti-fraud officers should tackle fraud. They will prioritise fairness, objectivity, professionalism, expertise, propriety and foresight. They will seek to ensure that all anti- fraud work correctly identifies the guilty parties, while protecting the innocent from abuse, and minimising losses to public funds.”


“The result of developing and applying these initiatives will be a body of highly skilled Benefit Fraud Investigation officers working within a professional framework to the highest standards of performance and integrity.”


The Code emphasises the particular standards and behaviour that are expected of staff working in counter fraud operations.

The Code is intended to make counter fraud staff aware of the behaviours and practices that are expected in order to avoid criticism of them.

The Code should not be read or applied in isolation. As well as the Council’s Code of Conduct for employees, it should be applied in conjunction with Enforcement Policy and HR procedures. This Code does not alter existing terms and conditions of employment.

Benefit investigations

Code of Conduct and Good Practice for Investigators

Application

This Code applies to all officers engaged in carrying out duties involving the investigation of fraud on the benefits system.

The Code should apply alongside Enforcement Policy (July 2005) and with the Employee’s Code of Practice.

Breach of The Code of Conduct and Good Practice

A breach of the Code of Conduct and Good Practice will be treated as misconduct and will be dealt with under current disciplinary guidance and procedures. Where it is not clear whether a breach is deliberate or not it will be investigated under the disciplinary procedures.

Inefficiency is not a breach of this Code, but still falls short of the standards expected, and may warrant further training.

Listed below are examples of factors that may be taken into account in determining the level of seriousness of any breach of the Code and therefore determine the appropriate level of disciplinary action.

  • Whether the misconduct resulted from a negligent or deliberate breach of the Code
  • The effect of such a breach on any current or anticipated civil or criminal proceedings
  • The effect of the breach on a current or anticipated investigation
  • The extent to which a breach results in the unlawful interference with the rights of any individual as set out in the Humans Rights Act.

Provisions-General Conduct

Officers should be professional and courteous at all times.

Officers to whom the Code applies must not:

  • exceed their actual authority or represent themselves as having any authority not provided by legislation
  • act in any way which exceeds the actual limits of their powers
  • imply that they could act in any way which exceeds the actual limits of their powers
  • misuse their official position for any benefit or gain for themselves or another

Legislation

Officers to whom the Code applies must:

  • pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry (including those which point away from a suspects guilt)
  • conduct quality investigations and gather information and intelligence lawfully
  • ensure that all material which may be relevant is recorded and retained in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act and associated codes of practice
  • ensure that investigations adhere to the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and Codes of Practice
  • ensure that all applicable provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and our own RIPA Codes of Practice and guidance are observed in relation to surveillance
  • observe all other applicable legislation, Codes of Practice and both internal and external guidance

Evidence

Officers to whom the Code applies must not under any circumstances:

  • conceal or fabricate evidence or knowingly allow any evidence to be fabricated or concealed
  • discriminate or exercise any bias on the grounds of race, sex, marital status, sexual orientation or disability
  • accept or offer any inducement, bribe or other advantage from or to any witness, suspect or informant
  • use any information gathered in the course of their duties for personal gain or coercion or otherwise misuse such information
  • do or fail to do something which may result in a miscarriage of justice

Disclosure of interests

Officers must declare any circumstances or interests that may affect their ability to conduct an investigation objectively including but not limited to:

  • Any relationship to or with a suspect or witness or informant
  • Any personal interest in the outcome of an investigation or other civil or criminal proceedings
  • Dependency on drugs or alcohol


Criminal Convictions

Officers must notify their line manager immediately of any of the following against them:

  • Investigation into them by another Local Authority, Government Department or Law Enforcement Agency; (This does not apply to speeding offences unless a disqualification has been imposed)
  • Charge
  • Arrest
  • Conviction

A failure to declare any circumstances set out in paragraphs 3.3 and 3.4 may undermine the ability to secure a criminal conviction by adversely affecting our ability to continue proceedings.

Confidentiality

Officers must treat all information gathered or received during the course of an investigation as confidential and must not deliberately or negligently:

  • At all times the Investigation Officer will ensure that information held by the Authority and information acquired during the course of the investigation is obtained legally and is only disclosed legally.
  • Staff should never access any secure systems on behalf of others, or to gain information about, anyone other than as required for the purposes of carrying out their normal duties.

Personal Injury and Damage to Property

Officers must exercise all reasonable care to prevent injury to the person or loss or damage to public or private property and must not:

  • Forcibly enter public or private property except to save life or prevent serious injury or on the invitation of the occupier or other responsible person
  • Deliberately or negligently destroy or damage any property
  • Seize or retain any property without lawful authority
  • Use or threaten physical violence towards a colleague or member of the public.

Dress

  • Officers are normally required to dress in a manner that is tidy, reasonable and appropriate.
  • Smart/casual attire is acceptable in the office.
  • When dealing with customers the attire should be appropriate to the situation. For example, this does not always require a male officer to wear a suit and tie. Officers may consider that information may be more easily obtained by wearing a similar style of attire to the customer. When undertaking surveillance or undercover work, an officer may adopt any dress or persona, which maximises the likelihood of success of the operation.
  • In relation to formal meetings with other council officers, Councillors, agencies, presentations or attendance at conferences, officers are
    required to dress smartly. This means formal business wear for both male and female officers.
  • When attending court as a representative of the Council all officers should wear smart formal clothing e.g. suits. Jewellery and make up should be kept to a minimum. Colours should be subdued

Visits

  • A visit sheet must be completed prior to any visit detailing description of clothing car and route. An expected time of return should be noted and contact made with a nominated person as pre arranged.
  • Any early morning or evening drive-by/surveillance needs to be pre- notified to your manager.
  • Officers must at all times carry their official identification cards with them. They should be shown, without being asked, to any person who is being requested to allow access to residential premises. Exceptions may be applicable in cases where a covert surveillance or CHIS authorisation is in force.
  • No officer has a right of entry to a private property without the permission of the owner. You should only enter premises if invited to do so by the occupier or Landlord. The exception to this is when accompanying police on a search warrant being executed by a constable.
  • Officers will ensure that his/her integrity cannot be questioned when carrying out visits. Officers should respect religious or holy days, where the belief of an individual can be established, or any customs, which may impact on entry to the property (i.e. covering of outside shoes with plastic disposable covers).

 

 


Last Updated on Thursday, September 10, 2020