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Are you being investigated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)?6th November 2018 Business Crime
I recently represented an individual who had wrongfully claimed both Income Support and Housing Benefit. She had failed to declare her interest in a property that she jointly owned. She was contacted by DWP and invited in for a voluntary interview almost 12 months after her claim had ceased. It was alleged that she had knowingly committed benefit fraud.
I was able to persuade the Fraud Investigating Officers that no further action should be taken against my client due to her mitigating circumstances.
What benefits do the DWP investigate?
- Jobseeker’s Allowance
- State Pension
- Pension Credit
- Universal Credit
- Employment and Support Allowance
- Personal Independence Payment
- Disability Living Allowance
- Bereavement Benefits
- Maternity Allowance
- War Pensions paid by the Veterans Agency
What to do if DWP invite me in for a voluntary interview?
It is imperative that you seek legal advice if you are invited in for a voluntary interview. Invariably, DWP interviews are conducted under PACE. This means that the interview will be under caution. The interview is a formal evidence gathering exercise, audio recorded and likely to be used as evidence in the event of a criminal prosecution. This stage of the proceedings is crucial and can determine whether a prosecution will follow.
They may feel less formal as they are often conducted at your local job centre or council office but don’t forget, you are under investigation in the same way as if you were being investigated by the police or HMRC.
Will I have to pay for legal representation?
If the interview takes place at a police station you are entitled to free legal advice and representation. If it takes place anywhere else such as a job centre or council office then you would have to pay for representation.
Will I face criminal charges?
A criminal record will follow a successful prosecution and that can have consequences for current and future employment prospects.
The DWP however does have alternatives available to them. It may be possible to persuade the officers in the case not to take any further action or we might be able to enter into negotiations with the DWP which can lead to an alternative disposal to prosecution.
DWP can issue administrative penalties as an alternative to prosecution. This is often available where there has been an overpayment of benefit which has occurred due to an act or omission by the individuals and there are grounds for instituting proceedings against them. This penalty is payable in addition to any recoverable overpayment that the individual has received. It is DWP policy to offer administrative penalties where the case is deemed not to be so serious that the prosecution should be considered in the first instance and is often made as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Importantly, no admission of guilt is required from the individual concerned.
Local Authorities also have the power to offer administrative cautions.
An individual may also receive a civil penalty of £50.00. This is generally imposed where an individual has received an overpayment as a result of their negligence in failing to provide accurate information as part of their benefit claim or in connection with an award of benefit and have taken reasonable steps to correct the error.
What if I am convicted of benefit fraud?
DWP has a pro-active policy of referring all cases for financial investigation which means they will instigate proceedings with a view to recovering monies or property obtained as a result of the benefit fraud. It might be, that the DWP apply for a Restraint Order in order to freeze and stop the suspect dissipating assets.
What should I do if DWP contact me?
It is vital that you seek legal advice as soon as you are able to do so. The interview is conducted in accordance with PACE and therefore it is recommended that you have a solicitor to explain the options available to you and obtain disclosure from the authorities prior to the interview.
If you have been contacted by the DWP in respect of an interview, you can contact me on 0161 838 2725 or contact any of my colleagues in the Business Crime and Regulation Department.