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 help from an advice centre; it’s only really fraud if you misled them deliberately, knowing (or suspecting) that you could get more benefit than you’re entitled to.
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.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between mistakes, negligence or fraud. The important thing is that you can’t normally commit fraud by accident – there has to be something deliberate or intentional about your actions. If, for example, you honestly think that you don’t need to tell them of a change this may be an innocent mistake or negligence, but as soon as you realise that you should tell them, then if you don’t take action to sort it out, it becomes fraud.
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.
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 or DWP that the rent is higher than it is so as to help your tenant to get more benefit you could still be investigated for benefit fraud.
Appointees: If 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. At the moment, 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 Jobseekers 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 have reason to 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.
Tom had just lost his job had found it really hard to find a flat which would rent to someone on Jobseeker’s Allowance. His Housing Benefit was £20 a week less than the rent and he’d been getting behind with the rent.
When his mother died and left him and his sister £20,000 each from when she sold her house, he knew that he should tell JSA and HB that he now had savings, but he was scared about how he’d manage if they cut off his benefits, so he decided to wait until he had sorted out all his debts. After 10 months he’d spent quite a lot of it anyway, paying the rent and maintenance for his kids, and still hadn’t got around to telling JSA / HB about it but decided the time had come to tell them, so he wrote to HB and declared the money.
Over the next few weeks Tom got an avalanche of letters:
He got one from the council fraud section who decided they needed to ‘interview him under caution’ to ask him about whether he had deliberately not told them about the capital.
He also got sent a new HB claim form and then a decision that as he only had £3,000 left he could still get HB.
Separately, the overpayment section decided that he had been overpaid for 8 months while he had too much capital. He was told that he needed to repay this, although he could appeal if he didn’t agree.
Tom agreed that he had been overpaid and to repay this, but although he knew he’d been wrong not to tell them about the money, he was really shocked that they thought this might be fraud: it sounded so much more serious when they put it like that.