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How to handle an interview under caution

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Steve´s story

So, you’ve been asked to an interview under caution: what now?

What is an interview under caution?

What about my benefits?

Before the interview

Get advice!
Ideally you should get advice from both an adviser and a solicitor who has experience in helping people with interviews under caution. The adviser can advise you about your benefits and the solicitor about your rights in the fraud investigation. They can tell you how the law will affect your particular circumstances, explain your options, negotiate with the DWP or council on your behalf and may come with you to the interview.

Solicitors usually charge for their services. If you can't afford to pay for a solicitor you may be able to get part or all of your legal costs paid through legal aid. Mention this to the solicitor on your first visit. They will be able to carry out the test to check if you are entitled. There is more information on legal aid in the Criminal Defence Service leaflet 'A Practical Guide to Criminal Defence Services' which you can get by calling 0845 3000 343.

If you can’t afford, or can’t find, a solicitor you may be able to get help from an advice agency for free. Many towns have advice centres, such as Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Law Centres and local independent centres. Before you go to them, check if they are able to deal with your problem. It may be helpful to take the step-by-step guide with you to work through together. Take your letter asking you to the interview under caution and anything else you think might be useful with you.

You can also get help over the phone. Gurkha Free Legal Advice is a free and confidential advice service paid for by legal aid. If you live on a low income or benefits they can give you free advice and help you to prepare for your interview over the telephone. You can contact them on 08001 225 6653.

It may be difficult to get all the advice and help you need. However,if you need time to get an adviser or solicitor, the DWP or council must delay the interview.

See the 'Useful contacts' section for information on how to find a solicitor or adviser. Advicenow's guide ‘Do I need a lawyer?’ explains the difference between advisers and solicitors and how to use them:

Whether you get help or not, working through the step-by-step guide should help you prepare for the interview.

Step-by-step guide: preparing for an interview under caution

Some of the steps outlined here may be difficult to manage without an adviser or solicitor, but working through the guide should help you to feel more prepared.

What to do:

Why and how:

Take a step back and look at your case objectively

Try and put any worries, embarrassment or anger aside to think about the situation and decide what to do next. Talking it through with a friend and working through this guide could help.

Find out what it's about

It's helpful to know what the DWP/council thinks you might have done wrong so that you can answer their questions. The letter asking you to interview should say briefly what they want to interview you about, for example, that they suspect you of living with a partner that you haven't told them about.

If the letter doesn't explain you could contact them to try to find out more. They ought to outline what the problem is, but probably won’t want to discuss details until they caution you.

An advice centre may be able to help you get the information you need.

Be careful: If you do contact the DWP or council be aware that anything you say to them (whether it’s in a cautioned interview or not) could affect the way they view your case.

Make sure that what you say is clear and accurate – contacting them through an adviser can help to make sure they don’t misinterpret what you say.

Never agree to anything or say something you don’t think is true just to try and sort it out, or to try and get them to cancel the interview.

See if you can resolve it without the need for an interview

Once you know what the DWP/council's suspicions are you may be able to sort it out without an interview, for example if you think they’ve made a mistake or you have a simple explanation for what happened.

Check your benefits

While they are looking at whether you committed fraud you may need to appeal against a decision to stop or reduce your benefit, or against a decision that says you were paid too much benefit. You may be able to claim other benefits instead. An adviser can look at your income and situation and work out which benefits you should be getting and help you with the appeal.

Go through your options

To decide what to do next, you will need to decide whether to go to the interview or not (see 'Do I have to got to the interview?'), find out if anyone can go with you (see 'If I go to an interview under caution, should I go alone?'), and know what it will be like when you get there. Knowing what all the possible outcomes might be (see 'After the interview under caution') may help you understand the interview better.

Make sure you can attend the interview if you want to

If there are things which might make it difficult for you to go to the interview, for example, if you have difficulty climbing stairs, let them know and they should try and help you, for instance by having the interview on the ground floor.

They should also try and take account of any reasonable special request, such as that a woman interviewer is present.

If the time of the interview is inconvenient, ask for a different time.

Write down what you think happened

Writing down exactly what you think happened or how you think the problems came about can help you to get it clear in your head.

If you have other things that may back up your version of what happened, such as letters from your doctor, or statements from ‘witnesses’, you should collect them too. If you need time to gather this kind of information (for example if your doctor is away, or you can't get an appointment at the advice centre straight away), ask them to delay the interview.

Take all this information with you to the interview. It will help you to answer their questions and remember what you want to tell them.

If you know exactly what they think the problem is, you could choose to send them details of what you think happened beforehand, especially if you think it may clear the matter up. However, it is very important to get advice before doing this as you need to be sure that what you say will help and won’t make things worse.

Do I have to go to the interview?
You don’t have to go to the interview. But you should think about whether you would be better off going, or trying to sort it out another way. Every situation is different and there are different views on what is the best thing to do.

Some advisers say that if you can't get an expert in benefit fraud to go with you, it is better not to go rather than go on your own. This is because you may say things that might incriminate you. If you don't go to the interview, and the fraud section doesn't have enough information to decide if you committed fraud, it could mean that they have to drop the case against you.

On the other hand, the DWP and the council say that it’s in your best interests to attend. It gives you a chance to find out what they think happened and to explain your side of the story. If the fraud section feels that it has enough evidence it may just take you to court anyway, without an interview, and you will have missed out on an opportunity to stop things going further.

Your decision may depend on things like whether you can get an adviser or solicitor to go with you, how strong the case against you is, and if you feel you could deal with the interview confidently on your own.

Get advice beforehand about whether or not to go and how this could affect your case. If you decide not to go you should write to them to explain your reasons, for example, because you can't get someone to represent you.

If I go to an interview under caution, should I go alone?
If you go to an interview it is best to take a solicitor to represent you. Unfortunately, it might be difficult to find or afford a solicitor with experience in interviews under caution (See 'Get Advice!'). You can, however, consider taking someone else, such as an adviser or a friend.

Many advice centres (for example, CABs and Law Centres) specialise in helping with benefit problems, and some may have advisers who have experience in interview under cautions. They may agree to go with you.

Some people want to take a friend to the interview for support. If you do, be careful: if the interviewer thinks they are there as a witness or your representative they may try questioning them, or they may refuse to let them stay. If the interviewer thinks that they are influencing what you say, they may think that you are unsure of the facts.

Many advisers would say that if you can't find either an expert in interview under cautions or benefit problems, you should go alone rather than take someone who is not an expert.

Whether you go alone or not, being thoroughly prepared, perhaps having jotted down or practised what you will say, will help you manage the interview better.

If you are someone’s appointee and their claim is being investigated, you should be able to speak for them. The person you speak for does not have to go, unless they want to.

Replying to their invitation to an interview under caution
When you are asked to an interview under caution you should always reply. If you decide not to go to the interview, or want to postpone it, you should explain this. If there are things you need, so as to be able to go to the interview, such as changing when or where it is or asking for an interpreter, let them know as soon as possible. Keep your letter short and simple and make sure that you don't say anything that could be used against you. Below is an example of a letter that someone might write if they wanted to delay an interview until they got some advice.

National Insurance number Date

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you for your letter inviting me to an interview under caution next week.

I would like to get advice before I come to the interview, but can't get an appointment at my local Citizens Advice Bureau for another three weeks. I would be grateful if you would postpone the interview until I have had chance to meet my adviser.

Yours faithfully

Vanessa Morgan

What will the interview be like?

After the interview under caution

Jen´s story

Step-by-step guide: after an interview under caution

Interview under caution: summary

Useful contacts

Jargon buster

What do you think of this guide?

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