What will the interview be like?
Although every interview will be different, all interviews must match national legal standards, known as ‘PACE’, (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984). The PACE Code of Practice sets out your rights and what the interviewer must and must not do to ensure that interview under caution is fair. If your interview doesn’t meet these standards it may be that the interview record can't be used in court.
What should they do in an interview under caution?
- Caution you and make sure you understand your rights – to silence, to legal representation and to leave at any time. It is not enough for them just to ask “Do you understand your rights?” Do not be afraid to say you do not. Most people don't. Ask them to explain in every day language what the caution means. Only agree that you understand them when you do.
- Be courteous and listen to you
- Let you see and have time to read any papers they refer to
- Read and consider any papers you bring and points you make
- Give you with the opportunity to explain your side of the story and offer any mitigating circumstances.
- Take account of any special needs you have, for example difficulties because of illness, disability or language
- Make sure you understand what they are asking you
- Check if you have any questions or points to raise before finishing the interview
What shouldn't they do in an interview under caution?
- Pressure or intimidate you
- Suggest your benefit will be stopped or threaten you with court action or the police if you don’t co-operate
- Suggest that you won't be prosecuted or that you will receive a smaller fine if you withdraw your benefits claim or say you are ‘guilty’
- Use unhelpful language such as refer to a benefit overpayment as a theft
- Pressure you to make or sign a statement
Where will the interview be?
If the interview is at their offices it will just be in a normal room – don’t worry, it won’t be a cell or a court room.
Occasionally, the DWP or council may ask to have the interview at your home or some other place. This may be easier for you, although they could request this if they think it may help their investigation. For example, if they suspect you are living with a partner who you’ve not told them about, they may be looking to see evidence of this when they come to your home. Although you may feel more relaxed having the interview in a familiar place it may also be more distracting for you, and harder to stop thinking about it afterwards. You don’t have to agree to have an interview at home, and can ask them to leave at any time if you change your mind during the interview.
You don’t have to dress smartly, like you would if you were going to court. Although it is a formal interview, they are not there to judge you, only to get a clearer picture of what has happened.
If you have to make a special journey to their office to get to the interview you can claim back your travel expenses. For this reason, the fraud section may arrange the interview at your Jobcentre Plus on the day that you normally have to sign on if you are on Jobseekers Allowance.
Who will be there?
Sometimes there is only one interviewer, from the fraud section, but it is not unusual for there to be two. If you have asked for an interpreter, a trained interpreter who speaks your language should be there: they should only interpret and not add anything to the interview.
What will happen?
All of the interview should be taped. Very occasionally the interview is not tape recorded. If it's not tape recorded the interviewer should make a full written record of the interview and at the end you’ll be asked to sign to say that it's accurate: take the time to read it thoroughly and correct anything you think isn’t right. Do not sign it if you don’t think it is correct.
They should begin with the caution (see section 2) and should check that you understand it and that you know your rights. Do not be afraid to say you do not: Most people don't. Ask them to explain in every day language what the caution means. Only agree that you understand them when you do.
They should tell you what they suspect and why, give you details of the evidence they have and ask you to tell them your side of the story. However, they may just start asking you questions without explaining what it’s about.
They may produce information you’ve not been aware of. For example, if you are suspected of doing work you haven’t told them about, they may have already talked to the people they think may be employing you or watched your house. There are rules about what they can do and who they can talk to about you, so if you are concerned about any of the information they mention, say that you’ll need to take advice about it before you discuss it.
The interview should not be too long but if you need a break they should agree to this.
They are unlikely to be able to tell you what will happen after the interview but they should be able to tell you roughly when they’ll next contact you. They may tell you about some of the things that could happen – see 'After the interview under caution' - or if they are likely to want to interview you again.
What can you do?
Take a list of questions that you want them to answer and points you want to make.
If they don’t begin by explaining what it’s all about, ask them to explain. Once you know what they think has happened, show them any relevant information you’ve brought with you that will help your case.
Take a pen and paper and write down things you want to remember. For example, if they spell out what they think happened it may be helpful to note it down so that you can go through their suspicions point by point. If there is anything you are unhappy with, you can write it down to remind you to tell your adviser later.
Ask to see, and have time to read, any information they mention – see box above. (There are, though, some things they don’t have to tell you, such as who told them something.) It may be reasonable to refuse to discuss things that they haven’t given you the chance to look at.
If at any point you feel intimidated or don’t understand, tell them this and ask them to slow down. Don’t be afraid to repeat things, or to ask them to explain if you’re not clear what they are asking or feel they are asking something unfairly.
Whatever they say or do: stay calm. If you feel upset, ask for a break: a short breather may help to give you time to think what to say, or to regain your control.
If you don’t feel that you can carry on the interview without getting too upset, or saying something you might regret, it is better to say that you want to end the interview. If you do decide to leave the interview try and explain why, preferably while the tape is still running, to help them avoid taking it the wrong way. For example, “I’m getting upset and flustered. I want to have time to think about what you have said and take advice.”
Remember that you have the right to remain silent. If you are unsure about anything they ask you, or about what you want to say, don’t be afraid to say ‘no comment’ or explain that you want to get advice before you answer. You should, though, be aware how this might be seen.
If they suggest that you agree to something so as to avoid going to court: don’t agree without taking advice first, especially if you feel they are putting you under pressure.
If you have any questions at the end of the interview, try and ask them before the tape machine is turned off.
Can I get a copy of the tape?
Whether or not you have a right to a copy of the tape will depend on the outcome of the DWP/council investigation into your case. They can refuse to let you have a copy if:
- They are continuing their investigation and may want to question you again; or
- They have decided to take no further action against you because they now realise you have done nothing illegal.
If they decide that you should be given a penalty or a caution, or should be prosecuted (see page *), then they have to give you a copy of the tape if you ask for one.
If you are unsure if you have a right to the tape you can ask them. They then have to tell you if you can have a copy, and if so you should be given information explaining how to get it (this usually involves writing in and asking for it).
At the end of the interview
The interviewer may hand you some forms at the end of the interview.
They may also write out a statement summarising what they think you have said – for example if you have told them that you did commit fraud they may write this on a form and ask you to sign it to confirm your statement.
They may also write out a statement of what they believe has happened: for example if they didn’t tell you before the interview what the offence was that they thought you had done, they may hand you a ‘charge’ which sets out what they think you have done wrong.
If you are asked to sign any kind of statement make sure you are completely sure that you fully understand and agree with what is written. Don’t sign anything that you don’t agree with or isn’t quite right. It is often best to ask to take it away to read through it and send it to them later.
Even if you are happy to sign something at the interview, make sure that they agree to you taking a copy home with you.
The interview is only one part of the fraud investigation. It is therefore unlikely that the person interviewing you will be able to tell you what the fraud section will decide to do. But they may be able to give you some idea about what they may be recommending should happen. For example, they may say that they will recommend that the case is dropped, or that they will need to follow up some of the things that you said, or they may be able to give you some timescale about when you should hear their decision. They can also explain to you what the options are that they could do, but you should not have to make any decisions at the interview.
Before turning off the tape or formally ending the interview they should give you the opportunity to ask any questions you still have.