I have been accused of benefit fraud. What should I do and am I entitled to legal aid?
Benefit fraud costs are rising, so not surprisingly the Government is increasing its checks on claimants’ eligibility to their benefits. Investigators look specifically for changes in circumstances which haven't been notified. Failure to inform them means they have a right to ask claimants to attend an interview, under caution, which can lead to a criminal prosecution.
If a benefit office contacts you because they suspect you of benefit fraud, you should seek advice immediately, particularly if you are asked to attend an interview under caution. The Citizens Advice Bureau recommends that you never attend this type of interview without representation from a criminal law solicitor.
Legal aid is available on a means-tested basis for advice, assistance and representation in court. It may even cover a solicitor’s attendance at an investigation interview.
I cannot stress too highly how important it is that anybody under investigation for benefit fraud takes advice at an early stage. Even at the first interview, information given by claimants can be used against them in a later court case. Whether you have deliberately or inadvertently caused an overpayment of benefit, you are entitled to specialist advice on how to achieve the best outcome for yourself. Prison sentences are not uncommon for the most serious cases.
By making the wrong decision or ignoring an investigation, you could end up before the courts unnecessarily.
Author: Emma Hicks
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to FDR Law directly.
Published on 12th June 2014
(Last updated 28th March 2018)