What is an interview under caution?
An interview under caution is an interview, usually taped, carried out by the DWP or your local council when they think you might have misled them about something to do with your benefits. An interview is one of the things they can do to help them decide what’s happened and what to do next - it doesn’t necessarily mean you have done anything wrong or that they’re about to take you to court.
‘Under caution' means that they will tell you what rights you have during the interview. You’ve probably heard it in TV dramas: 'You have the right to remain silent…' – but it does not mean that you are under arrest or that it’s anything to do with the police! (See ‘The caution’, below). If you aren’t told your rights (cautioned) when they talk to you, any court that later looked at your case could decide to ignore what you said. If you’re cautioned, then what you say can be used as evidence.
The caution - your rights!
"You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence."
This means that you can refuse to answer a question or to say anything at all. But if you bring something up later (for example, in court) that you didn't mention at the interview, the court is allowed to be suspicious about why you didn’t explain it at the time. This doesn’t mean that you should ever feel that you have to say something if you are unhappy with what you’ve been asked or the way it was asked.
Why do they want to interview you?
If the DWP or council notice something that could be benefit fraud they ask their fraud section to check it out.
The benefits and fraud sections in the DWP/council
If the DWP or council suspect you've been paid too much benefit the people who look into the overpayment are the benefits section. It is the fraud section's job to do interviews under caution and to investigate whether there has been any fraud.
As a general rule, you have to tell the DWP or council if something changes that may affect the benefits you get. Sometimes the DWP or council may think that your situation has changed, or that what you put on your claim was wrong, even though you haven’t told them so. This may be because someone has told them something, or, more commonly, because they’ve found that the records about you on different computers don’t match up. Sometimes this happens because you tell one office about a change without realising that you need to tell each benefits office separately. Or it may be, for example, that you didn’t tell them about your savings, or some work you did, thinking that it wouldn’t affect your benefit. They could have got it wrong or made a mistake - or it could be fraud.
What is benefit fraud?
This is a complicated area but, roughly, fraud means deliberately giving false information or not telling the DWP or council something because you know, or should suspect, that you will be better off as a result.
So, when you go to an interview under caution the investigators will want to find out whether:
- there is something you should have told them about that affects your benefits; and
- you deliberately misled them about it; and
- you should have understood that, because of this, you’d get more (or wouldn't lose) benefits.
Be aware: Some councils interpret the rules very strictly and look at every case where someone has misled them and been overpaid. They may still treat it as fraud even if they decide that you didn’t do it deliberately or to get more benefit. If you think your council is doing this, get advice; it’s only really fraud if you misled them knowing (or suspecting) that you could get more benefit than you’re entitled to.
Although it's usually to do with your benefits, they may interview you under caution if they think you have helped someone else to claim benefits fraudulently. For example, if you rent a house to someone and have told the council that the rent is higher than it is so as to help your tenant to get more Housing Benefit you could still be investigated for benefit fraud.
Appointees: If you are someone’s appointee (you are formally responsible for the benefits of someone who can't manage them for themselves) you can be held responsible for fraud on their claim: follow the advice in this guide, for or with the person you help.
If one office, for example, at the DWP spots a problem that may affect another one, for example, at the council, they usually pass the information on. They may decide to interview you jointly, or treat the two things as separate problems – so for example you may get one interview for a problem with Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit, or you may get two interviews – and possibly two different results.
The DWP or council should only ask you to come to an interview under caution if they suspect that your actions may have been fraudulent. But remember: it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong just because they want to interview you.
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