Bake Off Winner Sophie Faldo Accused of Benefit Fraud
The Great British Bake Off has been one of the biggest TV triumphs of the past decade. It made household names of a huge number of contestants, and in particular, those who made it through to the finals.
This year’s winner, however, has found out the hard way that there can be a downside to having the eyes of the nation upon you. It seems that the DWP are interested in more than Sophie Faldo’s baking skills, and have launched an investigation into her domestic circumstances.
Checking her profile
Sophie’s problems began when an eagle-eyed DWP investigator noticed her profile on the GBBO website. It all looks innocuous enough, but it was the phrase: “lives in Surrey with her boyfriend David” that caused the trouble.
At the time, Sophie was claiming a single person’s allowance. However, since entering the public eye, her personal life has become fair game across a variety of media outlets, and it is no secret that the “David” mentioned is David Slattery, a professional chef at Dubai’s prestigious Palm Hotel.
Sophie has provided no end of interviews for magazines and newspapers, and it is well known that it was boyfriend David who originally encouraged her to enter the contest, having been impressed by her cake baking skills. However, she had previously maintained that she lived in a house share, and mentioned testing her culinary creations on her housemates.
After the fraud allegations hit the press at the beginning of November, representatives of the show explained that Sophie’s domestic arrangements had recently changed, and she had moved into a new property with her boyfriend. It would appear, however, that she had forgotten to mention the fact to the DWP. A spokesman stated that any allegations of fraud were “categorically untrue.”
Big brother is watching
There are always those who struggle to stifle a smile when someone in the public eye has a high-profile fall from grace, but the truth is that it is not just reality TV contestants whose personal information is publicly available online for all to see. Investigators in a whole host of areas routinely check social media profiles to find out more about people.
There have been numerous stories of employees being caught out by thoughtless posts on social media. These might seem amusing enough when it is happening to someone else, but it is another story if you find yourself the subject of an online investigation.
DWP investigators use social media to find out more about claimants, including where and with whom they live – and these days, the status updates, tweets and photos that we share online make quite detailed aspects of our day to day lives blatantly obvious to anyone who cares to take a look.
Remember to report changes
If the Sophie Faldo story happened to an everyday individual who was not in the public eye, there would probably be far more sympathy. After all, none of us are frozen in time, and domestic circumstances do change from time to time. The point is that if you go from single to in a relationship or vice versa, it is one thing to let people know on social media, but how many people remember that they also need to tell the Department of Work and Pensions?
Unfortunately, this is an area in which they are paying ever closer attention, and failure to report a material change can result in a fine or even prosecution. You would also be required to repay any overpayment that had been received.
The following are just a few of the changes that you are required to disclose to your local DWP officer:
- A change in your employment circumstances
- An increase or decrease in your income
- Moving house
- Getting married or entering into a civil partnership
- Having a baby
- A bereavement in the household
- Someone moving in or out of your home
- Changing your name
- Changing your doctor
- Changes to your benefits or those of someone else in the household
- Starting or ending education or a training programme
- Going abroad for any length of time
- Changes to your medical circumstances
The above list is by no means exhaustive, and the best policy you can take is: “If in doubt, tell them, and if not in doubt, still tell them.”
How to report changes
Most changes need to be reported through your local Jobcentre Plus office. Ideally, you should do this in person, and ask the officer to provide written acknowledgement that you have fulfilled your reporting obligations. At Hylton-Potts, we have dealt with the DWP for a number of years, and if it has taught us one thing it is that they are as capable of mistakes as anyone, but are never in a hurry to admit them.
If you are in receipt of Universal Credit, you can report changes in your circumstances using the online portal, or by calling the Universal Credit helpline.
If you do report the changes over the phone, always make a note of the date and time that you did so, as well as the name of the officer you spoke to – just to be on the safe side.
What if you forgot?
There is such a long list of items that the DWP expect you to keep them informed about that it is hardly surprising that people often forget to do so. If this has happened to you and you have received a letter or are under investigation, don’t panic.
At Hylton-Potts, we have years of experience helping customers by dealing with HMRC, the DWP and the benefits office on their behalf, so if you have any concerns regarding the topics I have touched on in this article, please get in contact with us.
The sooner you give us a chance to look into your circumstances, the quicker we can help you resolve the situation, so give us a call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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