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Jo C.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: UK Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 70525
Experience:  Over 5 years in practice.
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Im a single mother on a low income, I knowingly continued

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I'm a single mother on a low income, I knowingly continued to claim housing benefit for four months instead of claiming the same amount in working tax credits from money I earned self employed. I did this because I couldn't afford to bridge the hiatus in payments being processed it takes about two months to come through. I used the four months of unentitled housing benefit to save enough to cover my rent & bills whilst the switch to the correct benefits was made. Financially I haven't taken ANY MORE money from the government than what I am entitled too, but I knowingly continued on the wrong benefit. The council don't know and they haven't investigated me, but I want to anonymously pay back the overpayment now that I can afford it just in case it ever comes to light as I don't want to get into trouble and be accused of robbing them, which legally I did, but morally I didn't as it was exactly the same same amount in entitled working tax and child tax credit that I didn't make a claim for. How can I put this right without getting into giant amounts of trouble and being threatened with prosecution? Last week I was finally in a financial position to claim the right benefit, wait for it to be paid and end the wrong one. I want to square this up and I now have the money to pay the council back because I'm working full time and my cash flow is good again. I know what I did broke the law but I didn't take any more money than what I was entitled to have but I KNOWINGLY took it from the wrong source and I lied to do so. But it was that or not be able to pay my rent or my bills whilst I waited for the agency that I AM entitled to claim help from to make payments. I had to save up a bit to be able to wait for the Working and Child Tax Credits to come through. This took four months. Please help I'm really scared that if they ever find out what I did I'll be taken to court. Should I send an anonymous postal order to the Council Treasury for the amount that I was overpaid with a letter explaining the circumstances, then if they ever notice and get in touch I will already have paid it back?
What would you like to know about this exactly?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
I'd like to know how much trouble I could get into for doing this, if I'll likely be taken to court & prosecuted and whether its a good idea to anonymously pay back the Housing Benefit that I claimed. I should have claimed four months of working and child tax credit which amounts to £2672.00 what I did was claim was four months of illegal housing benefit instead which amount to £2500.00. Nobody has noticed and they wont unless for some reason they decide to look at my bank statement where they will see four deposits of money for self employed work. I'm worried at some point they might do this and a family friend has offered to lend me the money to pay back the overpayment now that I have a stable job and working tax credits in place I'm in a position to accept the help and address it. But if I go in and admit to it will they just throw the book at me and take me to court? Should I rather pay them anonymously and send a letter explaining the circumstances anonymously just in case they ever "notice" what I did.
OK.

Can we try to narrow this down into relevant issues?

Why weren't you entitled to housing benefit? Just one sentence is fine. There's no need to put yourself to detailed explanation on that specific point.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
I wasn't entitled to any of it for those four months because I worked for those four months and should have stopped my claim and switched to Working Tax & Child Tax Credit to replace it. Housing Benefit is Council. Working Tax and Child Tax Credits is HMR. I commited benefit fraud because I didn't tell Housing Benefit I'd earned money for those for months or change to the correct benefit that I was entitled too. ( Because I couldn't afford to wait for it to be processed) It took those for months for me to squirrel enough away to financially cover the waiting time in benefit change being processed)
And how much was the housing benefit overpayment during those months only?

Also, have they realised this yet?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
the overpayment was £2400.00 and no they have no idea, I've ended my claim but they recently questioned what I'd been living on as £600.00 in housing benefit & Council Tax and £280.00 in child benefit clearly isn't enough to cover rent of £650.00 and living expenses. I told them I'd had to borrow money from family to cover those for months and that I had a permanant job to go too at the end of them & entitlement to Working Tax Credits as a result, but I think they suspect something isn't right & it would be a very simple matter of requesting my bank details to see exactly what I've done for those for months. They'd see immediately that I had been paid for self employed work, not claimed any Working or child tax credits & continued to receive Housing Benefit for four months
Does that mean you think they have noticed then?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
No they haven't noticed yet, Ive checked the procedure they have online, if they suspect fraud had they would have asked me to come in for an interview under caution, what they did was ask me to provide the info from Working Tax Credits to show I hadn't been claiming anything which I did. My claim for housing benefit stopped when I told them I had full time employment and was claiming Working Tax Credits again. But I think they are wondering how I managed to survive on such a small amount of money for four months and if they do decide to dig a little deeper then they will know. I need to know what they might do to me & how I can go about making this right without blowing the whistle on myself. I want to give the money back, I'm not a thief but I have commited fraud and knowingly even though it was for the same amount of benefit that I wasn't claiming, its still looked at as fraud I think and they have procedures for fraud. I'm scared of the consequences if I go and tell them what I did. I'm really scared of being prosecuted and getting a criminal record.
OK. Would you mind trying not to give me so much information?

I really need to narrow this down into relevant issues. If you wouldn't mind then it would be really helpful if you could just respond to my information requests giving me that information and no more.

Could you just give one sentence explaining why you think they suspect something? There's no need to put yourself to detail. One sentence would be great.

Then we can get to an answer that would be helpful much faster.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
They sent a letter asking what money I had received to live on in the four months that I claimed benefit as I was not receiving JSA. I sent in my payment notification from HMR an official document from HMR confirming that I was in receipt of child benefit and Child tax credit only & acknowledging that I had phoned and stopped my claim for Working Tax Credits & Childcare credits when I lost my job. I also told them I had borrowed money from my Dad to live on until I was in permanant employment again .That letter makes me think they are questioning whether I had another source of income in that period. Sorry for being long winded I'm really worried.
Ok. They actually might be onto this. These are two Government departments and they do, in the end, communicate with each other. They are very slow but generally speaking the Revenue are faster to find this type of thing than the DWP.

Clearly you were entitled to WTC and child benefits. Housing benefit will be the offending benefit. Obviously your position should have been disclosed to them and you know that already. Its going to be difficult to argue this was a mistake as you have mislead them.

In any event, there isn't anything to be gained by repaying the money anonymously. It will not stop a prosecution and anyway anonymous payments cannot be accepted and will not marry against you account.

Your options really are either to do nothing or to confess. On the face of it you cannot really even argue that it was a mistake.

Overall, since you are no longer committing an offence, you are free ethically to do nothing now. You cannot continue to commit an offence but there is no obligation to confess to everything you've ever done.

If they do catch up with you and they can prove this was a lie rather than just an error they could look at a caution or a prosecution. If they can prove the entirety of what you say then its not likely they would deal with this by just allowing a repayment.

That said, this is a fairly low overpayment and it was a genuine claim originally. Also, you might well have been entitled to some housing benefit anyway as part of a back to work scheme so the overpayments may reduce down. If you have no relevant previous convictions I think they would probably give you an internal caution and ask for a repayment.

Sorry thats probably not the answer you wanted but it is the position that you face and I have a duty to advise you truthfully.

Hope this helps. Please press ACCEPT and then I will answer your follow up questions for free. Your question will not close but I will thereafter give you related information at no extra cost.
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