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Jo C.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 71051
Experience:  Over 5 years in practice
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I am in Northern Ireland and in April 2012 was visited by a

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I am in Northern Ireland and in April 2012 was visited by a Compliance Officer (Benefits Agency) as I was found to have more than the permitted savings limit. I had to sign some document saying so at the time. Since then they have back and forthed with me (often long waits between their letters) requesting statements etc. – which I have sent them. I already have a local solicitor with whom I have no problem, but I would like a second opinion on certain issues.
Last July they requested more statements but in the interim I have had a serious breakdown in my mental health, and am also in the process of gender reassignment – both incredibly stressful conditions. My doctor and Gender Consultant both wrote what my solicitor referred to as very strong letters asking for the Compliance Section to come to their decision. They already have the proof of my offence, I just need them to come to decision, mainly as they are delaying my medical treatment and this is (and it has been spelt out to them) life-threatening.
My solicitor immediately sent these two medical letters along with the request to come to their decision (he did not forward the last batch of statements they requested). I have had NO response in the 16 months since, and I have surgery coming up which I can’t delay any longer (I have delayed enough times already because of this issue). So my queries are these;
1. They have all the evidence they need (if not the last batch) should they not be under a time limit within which to reach a decision? It is over 2 and a half years since they started.
2. Does this contravene the Social Administration Act 1992 which seems to give them time limits I have seen online? Does this even apply in N.Ireland?
3. Are they committing an abuse of process?
4. The very graphic and strong medical letters regarding my Gender Dysphoria and mental health have had no reply – could this be down to subtle transphobia? They know THEY are causing the delays in my transition treatment. I am currently protected by Section 75 of the NI Act as a member of a protected minority – are they contravening my rights by ignoring these factors and not reaching a decision in over 2 and half years?
5. Can we give them a time limit ourselves to get them to come to a decision? My operation is in March and it is of the utmost urgency that this is resolved. I am already a high suicide risk, and at times my GP has wanted to admit me – this they know, the life-threatening delays to my treatment they already know, yet ignore. That’s why I think transphobia is involved.
6. We have an Equality Commission here in NI – do you think they could help.
7. What other advice, if any, might you give me? I just want a decision to procede on.
I know this is long-winded. Thank you for taking time to read.
Thank you for your question. My name is ***** ***** I will try to help with this.
On your specific points
1 Not if they are charging the either way offence. Then time limits are not an issue. There is suggestion that the HRA might prohibit long periods on bail but it hasn't happened yet.
2 See above.
3 No. Delay can be an abuse but only if it causes something like evidence to be lost.
4 No. All that is a non issue.
5 No.
6 No
7 Your points above are a non issue. At least, they will consider your health concerns but only out of discretion. This is a criminal allegation under the SSA 1992 legislation. They are not under any duty to behave differently because of your circumstances. The law is the law and it applies to everybody regardless of their circumstances.
Personally I wouldn't even have sent the medical evidence in. I have never known it make any actual difference to the decision of any prosecution agency unless it goes to the charge in some way.
Sorry if that is bad news but I have to give you truthful information.
Can I clarify anything for you?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thanks. Just to clarify I didn't mean to say I think medical evidence should affect any decision to prosecute, the law is the law I agree. But the issue for me is really how long the Decision Maker in Compliance is taking to reach a decision - which yes will probably be to prosecute but at least if they reached that decision it would be the next step in the process I've moved on to. They haven't even interviewed me yet. Reaching a decision is the only thing I am asking of them - not leeway.

I'm not sure what an 'either way offence' is?

Yes, I understand.
A better point is the HRA. There have been rumblings that there will be an attempt to make the right to a private life apply to elongated bail periods but it hasn't happened yet.
It will take somebody to challenge it. The best person would be somebody on onerous bail conditions.
The trouble is that it might be a double edged sword because all that a time bar will mean is that prosecutors will levy holding charges.
The plain fact is though they will not make a decision until they have gathered all evidence.
An either way offence is something that can be tried either on indictment or summarily - like the SSA 1992
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Ok I see. So basically I sit and continue to wait and there's nothing I can do to get them to reach a decision on the next step any earlier than they will.

I assume then this could go on another two and a half years before they could call me in to the local Benefits office for even a first interview or interview under caution, before they would even proceed any further?

If so, then I need to know to set my mind to this eventuality.

You can make representations which is what your solicitor has done. It doesn't do any harm.
There is just no way of forcing them.
It could go on, in principle, for a long time. From your point of view though, delay is helpful generally. Delay is rarely the prosecutor's friend.
Jo C. and other Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

If I delay, I will (if it goes to court) be tried in a different name than that under which the offences took place. Which could cause me to be outed in the media as transgender - a risk to my safety and more importantly to my elderly parents peace of mind. That I guess is a separate issue.

May I quickly ask though, why is delay not the prosecutor's friend?

Delay affects memories and causes evidence to be lost. It isn't always the case but it is often. Witnesses lose interest, documents can't be traced etc.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Ok, thank you.

No problem and all the best.
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