Benefit Fraud Charge withdrawn despite savings of £30,000
We are often consulted by people of good character accused of Benefit Fraud. Usually they do not believe they have committed a criminal offence. They believe that they have simply “forgotten” or “failed” to tell the DWP or Local Authority about their savings or earnings. Every case is different and we always look our very hardest at all Benefit Fraud Charge cases for a defence. Where we have represented the client at the DWP interview they are often in good shape to resist the charges. Sometimes clients come to us after the interview where they have either had poor representation or none at all. It is crucial that people facing a Benefit Fraud Charge are properly represented. Where they are not it is harder to achieve a good result but it is by no means impossible. Here is an example:
D faced a Benefit Fraud Charge of dishonestly failing to declare capital. The council had discovered that she had savings of over £30,000 which is well in excess of the £16,000 upper threshold for means tested benefits. She was interviewed without a lawyer and accepted that she was aware of the rules. She even agreed that she had been dishonest. This meant that she was bound to be charged under the more serious s111a of the Social Security Act. She had thrown away her chance of a lesser charge of failing to disclose savings.
The total overpayment was in excess of £3,000. The local authority policy is to bring a Benefit Fraud Charge where the sum lost exceeds £2,000. However they do have discretion not to prosecute and instead to impose an administrative penalty of up to 50% of the amount wrongfully claimed. We had to tell our client that we would do our very best to avoid a conviction but that the prospects were not good given the amount of savings she had and her admission in interview.
Our strategy in the case was to apply for an adjournment so that we could make representations to the council that they should deal with the case by way of an administrative penalty. We successfully applied for an adjournment. We drafted a lengthy letter setting out our client’s circumstances. We emphasised the financial benefits to the council and the social and employment benefits to our client of diverting the case from court. We referred to her frankness in interview and lack of familiarity with the system. Our representation was accepted. The prosecution was withdrawn and our client kept her good character.