View Full Version : Accused of Benefit Fraud.
02-03-2007, 12:06 PM
New today to this forum. I only had 1 property which was let out on a short term agreement. Tenant who I have known for some years moved out. His rent was paid by the local authority. I immediately informed the local authority in writing that this was the case, and subsequently prepared and sold the property. Several months later I received a letter from local authority saying that they had never received notice of the change and that I had been overpaid nearly £2,000.00. I have no proof of postage of that notice, but I promise I did send it, and having heard nothing for months assumed very wrongly all was in order. Now I should have noticed that the money was still going into my account, but I spend a lot of time abroad, I never check statements, and the amounts per fortnight were quite small. I don't handle my finances particulary well, but I am honest, and immediately arranged to repay the money, and have kept religiously to the agreement with the local authority, money paid each month. Had an interview under caution after which I assumed they were happy with my account, but 4 months later I receive notice that I must pay an administrative penalty equivalent to 30% of the overpayment, or be prosecuted for fraud.
I am a mess. I have never been in trouble with any one in my life, in fact I tried to help the tenant through a difficult time. He claimed benefit for his next home, and I don't understand how the local authority didn't pick up that he had moved for months, surely there must have been liaison between local authorities? It is not the money for the penalty that is an issue, I will pay because I admit I was slack in managing things, but to accept the penalty I have to admit guilt to fraud, and I am not guilty, I would never defraud anyone, it sickens me to the stomach to think that someone could think that of me.
PLEASE I BEG, DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY ADVISE FOR ME?
02-03-2007, 12:41 PM
Well, you may well be at a disadvantage due to being interviewed under caution.
Were you legally represented? Did you make any notes? Was the interview recorded, or were written notes made at the time?
Although too late for you, there are some basic principles for anyone being interviewed under caution. The reason for this is that the interviewer is in the position of power: they are more aware of the particular statute involved, and know the response they are looking for. The following should always be done as soon as you are cautioned:
Ask the interviewer if you are under arrest. This is important, because if not, you are free to leave/terminate at any time. If you are, then you have rights under the PACE Act rules.
Ensure you understand the Caution. If you are unsure of anyting say so, and ask for it to be explained
Find out if the interview is being recorded, rather than notes being taken. If recorded, keep your comments short and if not absolutely sure of you answer say so, or "I cannot recall".
If written, make your answers verbose and ensure that what you are saying is written down verbatim, and not the interviewers interpretation.
If written notes are taken, you will often be asked to sign them. Always qualify your signature with a comment along the lines "these notes do not constitute all that was said".
Whether written or recorded, ALWAYS make your own separate notes of the interview as it happens. If necessary, write down each question verbatim and write your reply before giving verbally. It p1sses off the interviewer* no end, but gives you time to think and means you also have a record of the interview.
* I was once interviewed by a supervisor at work, under caution, and I wrote down each question and my answer before replying. It made the interview farcical, but probably saved me from being fitted up out of naivety of youth.
As to the offer of 30% against prosecution for fraud. In my dealings with other government departments, this is not normally done unless they consider that they have a case against you that is likely to succeed. So you'll need to consider paying up, or getting a lawyer fast. Find out what piece of legislation you are alleged to have broken, then think back to your interview and work out how your answers led then to believe that you were guilty.
Lastly, again as a point of principle, you are an individual against the might of a government department. If you want to fight this you will need to get legal assistance. Best of luck.
02-03-2007, 12:57 PM
Thank you. At no point was I arrested. I answered all questions honestly and they were recorded on a tape machine. Perhaps I should apply under the Data protection Act for a copy of the tape and all information they are holding on me. I have never defrauded the DSS or anyone else for that matter, I have no problem paying the money, as I do accept I was not diligent managing my finances, my issue is admitting I am guilty of a fraud. I AM NOT.
02-03-2007, 14:10 PM
Thank you. At no point was I arrested. I answered all questions honestly and they were recorded on a tape machine.
Then there's the rub. They would not have interviewed you unless they were gathering evidence - The DSS fraud section has targets, and by agreeing to be interviewed you allowed yourself to be a sitting duck.
NEVER agree to be interviewed, particularly with a recorded interview, unless a) you are under arrest, so have no choice; or b) if not under arrest, are legally represented.
If there was no interview, and the money had been refunded, would you be facing potential prosecution? I think not.
Perhaps I should apply under the Data protection Act for a copy of the tape and all information they are holding on me.
You are on damage limitation now. ANYTHING you can do to strengthen your position is to your advantage. Either you, or through a lawyer, yes get a copy of the tape. You'll be surprised how hesitant and woolly your answers will be - think of what someone in court will think.
I have never defrauded the DSS or anyone else for that matter, I have no problem paying the money, as I do accept I was not diligent managing my finances, my issue is admitting I am guilty of a fraud. I AM NOT.
Timothy Evans was hanged for murdering his Daughter Geraldine at his home - 10 Rillington Place. But there is little doubt that John Christie did the deed, as well as murdering Beryl Evans, and that Timothy was entirely innocent. Judicial mistakes happen every day (and in the Evans case, crucial evidence was suppressed). On the one hand you may know you are innocent, and are innocent until proved otherwise, but on the other hand establishing this is another thing.
From your first post, it seems that you have repaid the overpayment, If not, do so without delay - that way the public purse is protected. The other must is that you really need to get some legal representation on this - and don't communicate with the other side other than through your lawyer.
02-03-2007, 14:18 PM
You are allowed a copy of the tape anyway. Whoever interviewed you should have given you information on how you obtain one and if applicable a transcript. The recorded interview would have had a dual recording machine with two tapes, one tape is the working copy and the other is the master copy which is sealed, in front of you and signed by you and the interviewing officer and a witness. This will be opened by a court if there is a discrepency.
02-03-2007, 22:56 PM
I am very grateful to you for your help and advice. I will speak to a solicitor specialising in these matters on Monday. I hope that this post may at some point be of use to others facing a similar situation. Thank you all again.
03-03-2007, 09:56 AM
I was once interviewed by a supervisor at work, under caution, and I wrote down each question and my answer before replying.I always thought that being interviewed under caution something that only the police do? Can council officials do it too? Do they read you your rights like on the TV cop shows?
NEVER agree to be interviewed, particularly with a recorded interview, unless a) you are under arrest, so have no choice; or b) if not under arrest, are legally represented
So if you're told you're going to be interviewed under caution, you can simply refuse and walk out?
My sympathies to the OP - sounds a horrible situation.
03-03-2007, 11:28 AM
Anyone can conduct an interview under caution. However there are strict rules that must be observed, so training in normally needed - don't follow the rules and the interview will not be admissible in court as evidence.
I worked on the railways in the late 1980's as a Revenue Inspector. It was a regular event to do interviews under caution - and in a moving train it is harder to walk away!
Unless under arrest, you can just walk away.
This is why the first question immediately on being cautioned is to ask if you are under arrest. If no, walk away.* If they say, "no, but if you don't co-operate, I will arrest you" or something along these lines, then get them to arrest you. Once arrested you have lots of rights, including receiving a copy of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (which tell you what they can and cannot do).
To arrest someone, you have to tell them why - and the alleged offence must be an arrestable one. The person making the arrest is then responsible for the arrested persons well-being. They must then offer you legal advice from a lawyer (It's free!! Take it!!!) before continuing the interview.
* I can be a rather stroppy person, particularly when delayed (which normally happens when I am in a hurry!). I was leaving B&Q a year or so ago, having spent a long time queuing (with a number of tills closed and staff standing around chatting!). There was a security guard wanting to see my receipt and check the items bought - being late, I just walked past.
Two security guards ran after me and grabbed me in the car park demanding to see my receipt. I asked if I was under arrest, and when they said no, replied along the lines of "unhand me you cad", and I went on my way. I could have acquiesced, but I was annoyed at being kept waiting so long.
This is such useful info; it shows that it is not just 'the letting industry' that proliferates on the general ignorance of the consumer. We are all at such risk of being cheated our rights.
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