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Please help me, I have to attend an Interview under caution in a couple of hours because I am being accused and have admitted to benefit fraud.I have an ISA and a Bond to the value of £16,500 I did not declare this money when I claimed Income Support and council tax benefits 2 years ago. I did not associate this money with my money as I always thought of it as my son’s money for his future education even though it is in my name.
I have already been through all of my bank accounts and have unintentionally committed benefit fraud which I will admit to. Will I go to jail or prison? Since it has been 2 years and the amount of money that is involved, I will re-pay the money to whoever I owe it to as soon as possible.
First things first, and to set your mind at ease, you are not going to go to prison. Total value of this sounds like roughly 5,000 pounds of benefit fraud (2 years of IS at approx 120 every fortnight and 2 years of approx 1,000 per year council tax) and, if you have no previous convictions, you wouldn't be going to prison.
When you attend the interview, I strongly suggest you arrange to get a local solicitor to attend with you - they can be paid under the legal aid scheme so it shouldn't cost you a penny and it is well worth having someone by your side who understands exactly what's going on and can advise accordingly.
In terms of what might happen after the interview, there are number of options. The DWP/local authority can take no action at all, give you a formal warning (just noted on your account with the relevant benefits agency in case of any further irregularities), administer a penalty (30% payment on top of what was received fraudulently - call it a fine without going to court) or, in the worst case scenario, issue a summons to court.
Even in the worst case scenario of being summoned to court, you will not be going to prison. Max sentence I'd envisage for something like this would be a community order with requirement to undertake 100 hours of unpaid work - like the old community service.
It's perfectly possible that this will not go to court so don't get yourself too worried about it.
You will be required to repay the money in any event. Don’t be surprised if you receive a letter from the DWP/local authority debt collection department seeking immediate repayment. If you do get this letter, contact them immediately to arrange payment, lump sum if you can, or by installments.
Hope that assists but please feel free to ask any follow-up questions that occur.
Thank you, ***** ***** at least put my mind at rest, I keep having panic attacks and being sick from worry as to where my little boy would live if I went to prison. Thank you the relief of knowing that I will not go to prison is enormous, thank you.What information will they have about me; will they have been able to go through all my bank statements etc?If I pay all the money back within days would they still prosecute me or send me to court? To name and shame me?
Information-wise, they may well not have everything. DWP and local authority audit and investigation departments use what they call 'data-mining'. Basically, under their statutory powers they have access to all sorts of information registers, for example people applying for student loans. They compare those registers against benefits claimants and if anything comes up then they will begin to investigate further.
It's possible that they only know about one or other of the two non-declared capital assets, i.e. they know about the ISA but not the bond or the other way around. They do have the statutory power to request information from banks etc but tend to ask you for permission first before doing so - if you refuse they are within their rights to require the bank to provide information.
Re: prosecution - it's impossible to tell what they'll decide to do. Repayment is inevitable but you may wish to consult the solicitor who'll attend with you to decide on the best time tactically to repay. My view is that it's best to get the interview over and done with and then at the conclusion to have your solicitor speak to the investigating officer to see what can be done. It may be that they only have in mind to warn you but it's worth your solicitor finding out what is likely to happen in order to address it, i.e. offer payment of the administrative penalty if appropriate (total sum repaid + 30% on top) if it looks like they're considering prosecution. Administrative penalty is an attractive option as it ensures full repayment quickly and gives them income.
Re: naming and shaming - DWP don’t tend to go out of their way to do this, local authorities sometimes do. Some LA's have a Borough magazine or similar which include people who have been successfully prosecuted but rarely include those who've been warned etc.
If it does proceed to court then, again, things are sometimes reported in local newspapers, there isn't a lot that can be done about. That said, the wish to name and shame someone shouldn't be included in the decision whether or not to prosecute.
I really would contact a local solicitor as soon as possible to get them teed up and on aside straight away.
Hope that helps.
Thank you I have just returned from solicitor and from interview (although they did not have time to interview me they spoke to my solicitor).She said because guidelines magistrates have to adhere to re: the amount of money involved, they will have to prosecute.Do you have any indication as to worst/best case scenario? What will happen if they don’t believe me and they think I did intentionally commit benefit fraud?
Not so sure myself; that advice you've been given is accurate. I've had cases involving over 5,000 pounds dealt with by administrative penalty: may still be worth exploring, i.e. get your solicitor to write to the DWP/local authority and offer your acceptance of an administrative penalty.
Intention - there are two offences that deal with benefit fraud, s.111a Social Security and Administration Act and s.112 of the same act. The former is more serious as it requires dishonest intent, rather than just knowledge that the forms were filled in inaccurately. I'd plump for a guilty plea to s.112 - i.e. you knew you had the bond/ISA but didn't declare it. They should accept that, and if they don’t a certain amount of pressure can be applied given that they didn’t interview and give you a chance to give your account.
Even if they don't accept the s.112 offence, it may still be wise to plead guilty to s.111a as, to be honest, there's not a lot between them in terms of sentence for something like this. Discuss with your solicitor fully.
Best case/worst case - best case if they accept administrative penalty - you pay the penalty and repay the funds received and nothing else happens. Best case if prosecuted - sentence likely to be conditional discharge (order requiring you to be of good behavior for a period, usually 12 months) to a community order. Worst case is a sentence would be high end community order, i.e. 200 hours of unpaid work.
To reiterate, you will not be going to prison for something like this as its comparatively low value, it should be the s.112 offence and you have a young child.
Only other thing I should mention is that these things take time - it may well be that you don't hear anything for a few months and then suddenly receive a summons - this is entirely normal. I would though hassle your solicitor to see about offering the administrative penalty as it is a purely financial remedy that doesn't involve the courts.
Feel free to ask anything further if questions occur.
Thank You so much for your help and advice, it has been invaluable in calming me down about going to prison. It was by pure fluke/luck I found a lovely solicitor who I managed to get an appointment at very short notice and we went over details prior to going to interview. I would not have coped at all if it wasn't for her and knowing that I didn't have to go through it alone. I know she is helping me all she can and between both of you I feel I can now stop shaking and stop crying and stop having panic attacks and start to breath normally again.It appears I have filled out the forms incorrectly and have not declared the ISA & Bond. I have not done this intentionally as I am not that kind of person, I am a decent, (usually) honest person but I have made a huge mistake. My solicitor asked if there was anything going on in my personal life at the time to distract me, when I told her just a few of the things that were happening, her jaw dropped her eyes were like saucers and she said it was perfectly understandable that I was not concentrating when filling out the forms!Thank you once again Simon for your speedy legal help and advice it has been morally lifting and emotionally calming.
Very glad it assisted and that you’ve got a good solicitor on side. Don't worry about it too much but do stay in touch with your solicitor to keep up to date with what's going on.
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