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How to deal with a benefit fraud interview
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How to deal with a benefit fraud interview

Published: 23rd March 2011 at 08:57:21

How to deal with
a benefit fraud interview
If the office which pays your benefits or tax credits
suspects that you may have committed a criminal
offence with your benefits, they may write and ask
you to have an interview.
Usually the letter will be signed by someone like a
Fraud Investigator, but sometimes council investigators
have different job titles, for example, 'Benefits Enquiry
or 'Audit Officer' The
letter should also
tell you that the interview will be tape recorded and
that you may wish to get legal advice.
This is called an Interview Under Caution. It is to gather
evidence to prosecute you, so do not ignore this.
Going to the
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. 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'

attend the interview to help you, but you still need
professional legal advice.
Get advice
When you get a letter about an Interview Under
Caution, do not talk to the benefit authorities, but
immediately get independent advice. You have a
clear right to legal advice and help; it is not a sign
that you are guilty.
First you must contact a solicitor who specialises in
criminal defence, even if you think you have done
nothing wrong or you can explain things, you can
make things far worse by going it alone because you
may not realise you have broken the law. Most people
facing benefit fraud allegations are entitled to free
legal help with an Interview Under Caution.
You must also contact an independent adviser who
specialises in welfare benefits, for example, some
solicitors' firms, a law centre, Citizens Advice Bureau
or council welfare rights service. Ask the solicitor
and welfare benefits adviser to liaise with each other
about the Interview.
If you cannot make the time and date for the
Interview or if you have not been able to get
professional legal advice (or can't afford to pay
for it), you should write a very short note to the
benefits office telling them why you can't attend.
Keep a copy. Also say if you need an interpreter,
a professional interpreter should be provided
for you.
Don't ignore the letter
Get legal advice
Don't go on your own
After the Interview
After the Interview a decision will be made whether
you are going to 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 help is needed to spot the errors.
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 independent welfare benefits advice
about appealing. If you do not appeal and instead
agree to repay the money, you can still be prosecuted.
An appeal to the Tribunal ensures that you only repay
what you are legally liable for and if you are prosecuted,
your solicitor can ask for it to be heard before
the court case to sort out what you actually owe.
Social security law is very technical and complicated
and so it is easy for benefits officials to make mistakes.
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 as
the adviser and your solicitor can work together on
the case.
If you are not going to be prosecuted, you should
also be sent a letter telling you so.
At the Interview
A solicitor can ask for 'prior disclosure'
. 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.
If you also have a welfare benefits adviser, the solicitor
and the adviser can also 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 side of things 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 must not force you to attend
an Interview Under Caution by doing things like suspending
your benefit, if this happens get advice
about how to challenge this.
The information in this leaflet only applies to England and Wales.
This leaflet was written by: Andy Malik - Newcastle Law Centre.
Paul Smith - barrister St Johns Chambers. Abbas Nawrozzadeh - Johns and Saggar Solicitors, London.
Sebastian Lettouche - Duncan Lewis Solicitors, London. Scott McCrimmon - Jacobs Solicitors, Cheshire.
Neil Bateman - welfare rights specialist. Desmond Rutledge - barrister Garden Court Chambers.
Chris Mitchell, C Nicholls Solicitors, Cornwall.