If you are under suspicion of benefit fraud, the office that administers your benefits or tax credits may invite you to a fraud investigation interview. Benefit fraud is a criminal offence, and making a fraudulent claim for benefits can have grave repercussions such as a custodial sentence and being made to repay the benefits wrongfully claimed. If the office dealing with your benefits has reason to believe that you are fraudulently claiming, they may ask you to attend an interview under caution.
You may receive a letter signed by an official called a Fraud Investigator; occasionally council investigators have different job titles such as a “Benefits Enquiry Officer” or an “Audit Officer”. The letter should inform you that the interview will be under PACE regulations and will be tape recorded and you may wish to seek legal advice before attending the interview.
This is called an Interview under caution. The purpose of this interview is to gather evidence to prosecute you so you should not ignore this.
Attending an Interview under Caution
You do not have to go to the Interview under caution, but if you don’t, it may make it more difficult to explain facts and defend yourself if you are prosecuted. It is strongly advised that you do not attend an Interview under caution on your own or without a professional legal adviser.
If you go to the interview with a friend or relative, they have no right to help you. If you have special needs, you can ask for an “Appropriate Adult” to attend the interview to help you, but you still need professional legal advice.
When you get a letter about an interview under caution, do not discuss the matter with the benefit authorities, but seek independent legal advice straightaway. You have a right to legal advice and help and having a lawyer present at the interview with you is not a sign that you are guilty.
In addition to the possible criminal proceedings against you there may also be a civil case being put forward by the benefit authorities against you. It is important to get welfare benefits advisor or lawyer to assist with this kind of case.
Don’t ignore the letter n Get legal advice and don’t go on your own.
At the Interview
A solicitor acting for you may ask for “prior disclosure” before the interview. This means they should be told what evidence is held against you. They don’t have the right to be told about all the evidence, but must be told enough so they can advise you properly. You have the right to speak to your solicitor privately about the evidence so they can advise you what to do during the interview.
It is important that the solicitor advising at the interview at caution the person dealing with your civil tribunal are able to liaise with each other and discuss where you stand and how your benefits might be affected.
Depending on the case, your solicitor may advise you not to answer questions or to answer questions or to hand in a written statement from you explaining your version of events and to also not answer any questions.
The investigator will ask questions to find out what you know about benefits, why they think you did not tell them something and whether you believe what you did was wrong.
If new evidence is introduced during the Interview, the solicitor should ask for it to be stopped so you can have more advice. You may leave the interview, for example to get advice.
The benefit authorities cannot force you to attend an interview under caution by doing things like suspending your benefit – if this happens you may be able to challenge this and should seek advice at the earliest opportunity.
After the Interview a decision will be made as to whether you should be prosecuted. You may also be sent a letter telling you that you have been overpaid benefit or that your benefit has been stopped (this may be quite a time after the Interview).
You have the right to appeal against an overpayment or stopping benefit to an independent Tribunal and you should always write and say you wish to appeal even if you think you have a weak case – most benefit overpayments are wrong in some way and expert assistance is can help to spot the errors and possibly save you a large amount of unnecessary overpayments.
You have one month in which to appeal, but you can still appeal after one month if it is within 13 months of being written to and you can show good reasons for appealing late. It is very important to always get specialist welfare benefits advice about appealing.
If you do not appeal but agree to repay the money, you may still be prosecuted. An appeal to the tribunal protects your position so that you may only repay what you are legally liable for and if you are prosecuted, your solicitor can ask for your tribunal to be heard before the court case to establish the amount that owe.
Social security law a is very technical and complicated area of law and full of technical procedures with regards to appealing and it is easy to make mistakes so you should make sure that expert benefits advice is taken at the earliest opportunity.
After the Interview
If you are going to be prosecuted, you will receive a bundle of papers telling you this. Do not delay and straight away find a criminal defence solicitor to take on your case – preferably one experienced in defending benefit fraud cases. Again you must also seek independent expert benefits advice so lawyers dealing with your criminal matter and civil tribunal can work together on the case.