Hi All, I'm a newbie, and rightly or wrongly in a panic!
So, where to start? I'll try and be as brief as I can:
I've just received a scary letter (yesterday) from the council asking me to attend a formal interview on Tuesday 15th March (in accordance with the Police & criminal Evidence Act) that says I am being investigated for Council Tax Benefit Fraud. It doesn't say what they think I've done, and I don't know if I'm guilty, but this all started when I approached them a few weeks ago. It talks about criminal proceedings being taken.
I was supposed to be at a training event that day for a charity I volunteer with, and now will have to miss it, much to the charity's cost (not that I'd be much use there on Tuesday any more after reading this letter!)
I was made redundant in Sep 2008 after being signed-off sick from work since June that year. I was suffering from Depression & Anxiety (and still am), but I got a decent redundancy pay-out as I'd been there for 9 years. My illness was because of the stress of dealing with my ex's own mental illness (she's bipolar) it tore us apart and caused all sorts of problems...one of the biggest issues I'm having is that the medication I have had to take has had a major impact on my brain's usefulness.
I can barely concentrate long enough to make a cup of tea, let alone deal with the stress of a fraud investigation, and my memory is useless. So many things over the last 3 years are just a blur. I am really worried that I might have messed up and be in trouble, so I'm trying to find an experienced benefits/fraud solicitor in the South Yorkshire area that can help me sort this mess out and avoid a criminal conviction if possible?!
I don't know how relevant it is, but she had what they call a "major episode" in April 2005 which was basically the beginning of the end for us, but some how I managed to hold down my job, and in April 2007 we bought a new house together. She seemed a lot better but I think the house was more of a sticking-plaster for our failing relationship, and in October that year we split-up. She didn't have anywhere else to go, and the house was in her name too, so we both lived here (not as a couple) as long as we could, but it was too much for us in the end, and in May last year she moved out to go back to her parents.
Anyway, with the housing boom having been at it's height, and me having a well-paid job at the time, I managed to buy the new house and keep hold of the old one to rent out, which it has been, on-and-off, since we moved to the new one (I think in May 2007). Ever since then, of course, we had the housing crash, so both properties are in negative equity (even though the old one is only little, I was there for just 3 years, so barely dented the mortgage), so I haven't even been able to sell one or both of them in the meantime, either.
When I applied for benefits in late 2008 / early 2009, I told them about the other house, and so started getting IB and some council tax benefit. My ex was also receiving IB, DLA & Council Tax benefit for some of the time she was living here -I don't know the exact details off the top of my head. (As far as I know, she was entitled to 100% benefit on council tax for the period she lived here and was claiming, so I'm guessing the problem is some time either-side of that period when just my claim was eligible?)
So, the rent & IB/CTB wasn't enough to cover the bills, and by May last year, all my savings & redundancy were gone, I'd pretty-much maxed-out all my credit cards, and emptied my overdraft. I really didn't want to lose everything, so against my doctor's advice I made the difficult decision to try and get back into work. At the time I told the Benefits Agency I was looking for work, and managed to get a small part-time contract (self-employed) for just enough to make ends meet.
The Benefits people were really helpful, and told me they'd sort out informing the council tax and not to worry about it. So I didn't. That was a mistake! Both of them overpaid me. I told the benefits people, but they didn't seem to do anything about recovering the overpayment, but they did stop paying me the IB. And sent me a reassuring letter, so I thought that was that and promptly forgot all about it.
I then got a letter from the council asking for documents to support my claim for council tax (which I thought was cancelled) so I went to their office myself and told them that they shouldn't still be paying me and that I had already started work. I provided them with the details, they sent me a bill for repayment, and will hopefully have the funds to pay the bill when it hits my bank account later this month.
As far as I know, I've always told them truthful answers to any questions they've asked, but due to my mental weakness I have absolutely no confidence in myself or recollection of exactly what they asked or what I said back, so am having to rely on what paper trail I can get my hands on at such short notice.
I've got a nagging feeling that it's to do with the amount of rent / mortgage payments on the other house varying and so affecting my income? I just don't know what information I gave to which agencies. I thought they were all the same thing, but obviously not. If it turns out I owe them money, I'll do everything in my power to repay it, but if I get a criminal conviction for fraud, my career is effectively over!
Anybody know what I can do between now and Tuesday afternoon? (...other than crap myself and pace around all day & night -tried that already, it's not helping!)
...And if that doesn't make things bad enough, it looks like I'm a serial fraudster, as I didn't realise that I've supposed to have been paying extra tax on the the other house's rent money too, and I haven't been! -so off to another forum to post about advice on that now too. I feel like such a failure today -what else have I got wrong too?
Thanks so much in advance to anybody that can offer a referral or any scraps of helpful advice,
P.S. I promise to keep this thread updated with any "progress"
...or you can PM me if this site supports that?
...so sorry for such a long first post too.