DWP Investigation, Job Centre Interview Under Caution,
The first stage of any allegation of benefit fraud will be a letter from the DWP inviting the claimant to come for an interview under caution.
Even though this investigation is not being carried out by the police, it is important to treat it just as seriously. Allegations of benefit fraud can sometimes involve large amounts of money, and it is crucial to protect your position and take legal advice from the very start.
Anyone interviewed in connection with alleged benefit fraud is protected by the same rights as if they were interviewed at the police station. These rights ensure that the investigation is carried out fairly and properly. One of the most important protections for suspects is the right to have independent legal advice, such as a solicitor.
Sometimes, even if an alleged benefit fraud is admitted, it is possible to avoid Court proceedings. Arrangements can sometimes be agreed for the overpayment to be repaid over time, or for an administrative financial penalty to be imposed as a punishment.
This is one of the reasons why it is vital to have an experienced criminal defence solicitor present to give you advice. If you have been asked to attend a DWP interview under caution and would like some information about what this means, contact us and we may be able to recommend a local solicitor who can help.
Benefit Fraud, Dishonestly Failing to Inform of a Change in Circumstances, s.111A Social Security Administration Act
An offence that always attracts a great deal of media attention is benefit fraud. Given the Government’s drive to cut public spending, elements of the media are keen to demonise anyone accused of committing benefit fraud.
The offence is defined by the Social Security Administration Act 1992, and has 2 main categories of offence in section 111A of the Act: Making a false declaration to obtain benefit (similar to general fraud offences), and dishonestly failing to disclose a change in circumstances.
It is a duty of anybody claiming Social Security benefits to inform the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) of a relevant change in circumstances. This may include a part time job, a partner moving into the claimant’s home, or having savings in excess of the DWP’s threshold. Issues such as this may change the amount of benefit the claimant is entitled to, and by failing to update the DWP the claimant could receive an overpayment.
These overpayments of benefit can build up over time, until eventually the DWP identify a discrepancy. By the time this happens, the amount of overpayment can have built up to thousands of pounds.
Benefit fraud under s.111A of the Social Security Administration Act is an either way offence. This means that it can be dealt with in either the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. The maximum sentence available to the Magistrates Court is 6 months imprisonment, while the Crown Court can impose up to 7 years under this section of the Act.
As a rough guide, the Sentence Guideling for Benefit Fraud suggests that offences of up to £20,000 would be suitable for the Magistrates’ sentencing powers. This is a substantial figure to remain in the Magistrates Court, especially compared to other forms of dishonesty offences.
Failing to Inform of a Change in Circumstances, s.112 Social Security Administration Act
There is a second statutory offence of benefit fraud, that does not require the claimant to have acted dishonestly. Under section 112 of the Social Security Administration Act, if a claimant submits information which he knows to be false, he commits a criminal offence.
The significant difference between this and the s.111A offence described above, is that it is a summary only offence. This means it can only be dealt with in the Magistrates Court, and it has a maximum sentence of 3 months imprisonment.
If you have been accused of benefit fraud, or have been contacted by the DWP regarding an interview, it is important that you have expert advice from a specialist criminal defence lawyer. Contact us to see if we can help you find an experienced solicitor or barrister for your case.
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