28-day Bail Limit Now in Effect: What does it mean for you?

Our team at Hylton-Potts have decades worth of experience in the field of tax credits and benefit law. Over the years, we’ve helped thousands of claimants take back control over their lives and restore their dignity after they’ve been wrongly accused of benefit fraud, and in that time, we’ve seen a lot of change.

Some changes have been controversial, such as the nation-wide roll-out of Universal Credit, and some moves have been for the better, like the story we’re reporting back to you on today. We’re still passionate about providing our clients with the best level of care and advice that we can give, which is why we use this blog to tell you about all the latest updates and developments from the legal world, in a straightforward, no-nonsense way.

In today’s post, we’re considering the news that the government has enforced a new 28-day limit on the length of time that police can hold someone on pre-charge bail, and what this all means for people who are being investigated for benefit fraud – a problem we come up against every day. If all this sounds like news to you, read on for more…

What’s the news?

For many years, the police have been inundated with complaints surrounding the fact that they hold people in “legal limbo” for months and even years, by keeping them on bail indefinitely. All that’s now changed though, as the government pre-charge bail restriction of 28 days came into force officially on 3rd April 2017.

The new law affects anyone held in custody in England and Wales, and according to reports, it’s all part of the government shake-up aiming to end the “injustice” those who are under bail restrictions are subjected to. Not only does bail come with certain conditions that the person must adhere to, but it also leaves them under a “cloud of suspicion for excessive periods of time”.

Having seen the emotional torment that this creates first-hand, we think this is a bold move by the government, and something that will help to improve the lives of those who are being investigated. Looking specifically at benefit fraud, we’ve written several articles about the implications of these allegations, and the upset it can cause when the claimant may be completely unaware that they have done anything wrong. To then be subjected to pre-charge bail indefinitely can often drastically affect people.

What is pre-charge bail?

The new law relates specifically to pre-charge bail, or police bail, which until now has not been subject to any kind of timescale cap. Pre-charge bail allows those under investigation to be released from custody, potentially subject to conditions depending on the crime they are supposed to have committed, while officers continue their inquiries.

Under the new law, bail can now only be used when it is deemed “necessary and proportionate”. Where this isn’t the case, people will be presumably released without bail. According to research, over 400,000 people per year are released on pre-charge bail conditions, so it will be interesting to see how this figure is affected over the next few years.

Of course, every crime is different, and the new law does allow for exceptional cases. An extension of up to three months can be authorised by a senior police officer at superintendent level or above, but only if evidence can be provided to show that it’s necessary and appropriate to do so. If there’s a need to extend bail any further than this, they can apply to a magistrate’s court.

Why should I care?

We feel that this news is something that all benefit claimants should be aware of. On the one hand, it’s important to be aware of your rights and the restrictions that the police are under.

If you were put into a stressful situation such as an Interview Under Caution, following the news that you were being investigated for benefit fraud, it’s important that you don’t allow the authorities to coerce you into saying things out of confusion, via the language and terminology they use.

We understand how complicated it can be, so by keeping yourself up to speed on these kinds of developments, you’re making yourself more prepared for such circumstances.  On the other hand, if you’re released under bail restrictions (although it must be proved that there’s good reasoning to do so) you know that there’s a 28-day limit on it, which will help you to cope better with the situation, as you know it won’t be an ongoing issue.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd explained: “Pre-charge bail is a useful and necessary tool, but in many cases, it is being imposed on people for many months, or even years, without any judicial oversight, and that cannot be right.

“These important reforms will mean fewer people are placed on bail, and for shorter periods. They will bring about much-needed safeguards – public accountability and independent scrutiny – while ensuring the police can continue to do their vital work.”

Unsurprisingly, there’s been overwhelming support for the new ruling since it came into effect. Brandon Lewis, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service told the press: “We needed to rebalance this system for the benefit of all concerned. [The] changes will bring an end to those long periods of bail without any independent oversight that we have seen in the past.”

“Police officers will keep on doing their crucial work. But now anyone on pre-charge bail will have their case reviewed regularly and independently. That’s the right thing to do, and I thank the police for their swift and efficient work in preparing for these new rules.”

Regardless of your situation, we will always advise that you to never attend an Interview Under Caution, and if you’ve been released on bail and want to understand more about your situation, get in touch with us for advice. You can call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

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