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27 Feb 2017

Another unlawful profit order for illegal sub-letting

A Council tenant has been ordered to pay almost £3,000 by way of an Unlawful Profit Order in addition to a further £2,914 in costs to the Council - after letting out his property on the website AirBnB. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

Peter John Wootton, aged 46, of Coastguard Flats, West Looe, was due to appear at Bodmin Magistrates Court on Wednesday 22 February, but failed to attend. As a result, the Magistrates agreed to hear the case in his absence.

During the hearing, the court heard that the Council's Corporate Fraud Investigations Team began investigating Mr Wootton in July 2016 after receiving an anonymous tip off that he had been advertising his property on the website AirBnB. Under the terms of Mr Wootton's tenancy with Cornwall Housing Ltd he did not have permission to sub-let the property.

Further investigations identified 10 instances where payments were made to Mr Wootton, totalling £2,958.

The court heard that a number of attempts had been made to interview Mr Wootton under caution. He eventually attended for interview in November 2016 but decided that he did not want to stay or be shown the various items of documentary evidence. He later sent the Council a short handwritten statement stating that during the summer he had had people staying who he classed as lodgers.

After hearing the case, Magistrates found Mr Wootton guilty of an offence under Section 1 of the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act for sub-letting and parting with possession of his whole dwelling house, ceasing to occupy it as his only or principal home.

Kevin Hill, prosecuting for Cornwall Council, then presented the Court with a Section 4 Notice under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act for an Unlawful Profit Order to the value of £2,958.

The Magistrates awarded full payment of the Unlawful Profit Order of £2,958.00 and, in addition, granted the Council's application for investigation and legal costs totalling £2,914.00. This amount covered the costs of investigating the matter and bringing it before the Court.

Following the conviction, Pete Jarman, Landlord Services Director for Cornwall Housing Ltd, said: "Cornwall Housing Ltd. takes tenancy fraud very seriously and works closely in partnership with Cornwall Council's Corporate Fraud team to identify, investigate and potentially prosecute cases of tenancy fraud. It is important that such a scarce resource as social housing goes to individuals and families who are in genuine housing need."

Simba Muzarurwi, Cornwall Council's Head of Internal Audit and Risk, said: "Our team of professional investigators continue to work with Cornwall Housing Ltd to combat fraud. The Council has a zero tolerance policy on all forms of fraud so the Corporate Counter Fraud Team will leave no stone unturned to ensure that those responsible for perpetrating fraud are brought to book. By continuous checking and investigation of anomalies in information supplied by tenants and potential tenants, we can help ensure that housing in Cornwall is allocated to those in most need."

Source

Despite the brave words, this is another case where the housing provider only found out about the illegal sub-letting through an anonymous tip-off.

25 Feb 2017

Man registered 26 non-existent babies

A businessman travelled around Scotland to register the births of 26 non-existent babies as part of a benefit fraud scheme, a court has heard.

Rory McWhirter has admitted collecting identity details from people he had deceived into applying for fake jobs at a Glasgow hotel. He used the details to obtain their marriage certificates before using them to register the fake births.

McWhirter, 29, then used the birth certificates to claim benefits.

He claimed tax credits amounting to £14,222, child benefits of £19,658 and a Sure Start maternity grant of £500.

McWhirter, from Edinburgh, will be sentenced on 21 March.

Dundee Sheriff Court was told that McWhirter was caught after returning to the scene of one of his early false birth registrations at Aberdeen registry office where he was recognised by staff.

Around the same time, an "organised attack" on HMRC's computer systems - which showed that about 350 requests had been received for tax credit application forms from an address in Dundee and others in Campbeltown linked to McWhirter - triggered other alarms.

Depute fiscal Vicki Bell told the court that McWhirter presented letters to registrars at various offices throughout Scotland purporting to be from doctors confirming the births of children at home. During the meetings he acted as if he was the male named on the marriage certificate while registering the birth, the court was told.

Miss Bell said: "Four of the names used as claimants were traced and they advised they didn't make the claims. They had all, however, applied for the same job for front-of-house staff at a four-star hotel in Glasgow advertised on Gumtree on March 2015. The ad required a CV and a national insurance number.

"It was then discovered that 14 claims for tax credits had been made by persons residing in Perth Road, Dundee, and in Campbeltown at flats related to the accused's company."

After being traced, McWhirter said he considered the registration system in Scotland "archaic and easy to create false registrations."

McWhirter admitted a charge of fraud committed between 1 June 2014 and 22 October 2015 at addresses across Scotland. His solicitor John McLeod told the court his client was under no illusion that imprisonment was likely to be "at the top of the list".

Source

24 Feb 2017

Woman sentenced for illegal sub-letting

Ingrid Schultz, 65, travelled abroad, dined out at restaurants and splashed out on shopping sprees after pocketing £10,000 over five years.

The ruse was uncovered by an anonymous telephone call to Genesis Housing Association from someone commenting on the turnover of subtenants at the property in Burton Road, Kilburn.

Genesis referred the case to Brent Council’s Audit and Investigation Team who started collecting evidence on Schultz.

They found she had been illegally subletting the property between March 2010 and November 2015 while living in a neighbouring borough and illegally renting out the loft.

At the expense of taxpayers, Schultz used the profits to finance holidays, meals out and shopping trips.

She pleaded guilty to subletting the property over five years at Harrow Crown Court on February 16 and was handed a 12-month prison term, suspended for two years.

Schultz was served with an unlawful profit order - which requires a landlord to be paid any profit gained from the subletting - in the sum of £10,823 to be paid at the rate of £350 per month.

She was also ordered to pay £1,000 costs along with a £100 surcharge.

Source

This went on under the Housing Association's nose for more than five years. They didn't even spot it themselves, it was only a tip off that brought it to their attention.

How much more illegal subletting have Genesis Housing Association not picked up on? Do they even try? Should this not be part of their job?

22 Feb 2017

Another belated keys amnesty - Swansea this time

Tenants illegally sub-letting their council homes in Swansea will face no action - but only if they take part in a new 'key amnesty' initiative. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

The Swansea Council scheme, which is being held throughout February and March, is aimed at cracking down on what authority leaders call "unacceptable" tenancy fraud.

From April onwards however, the council says it will push for maximum sentences in the courts, which could see offenders given up to two years in prison, issued fines of up to £50,000 as well as other costs.

The sub-letting of social housing is unlawful and involves tenants who rent out their home and live elsewhere.

Andrea Lewis, cabinet member for next generation services, said: "Tenancy fraud is unacceptable. It can mean that vulnerable families waiting for a property are waiting longer on the housing register than they need to be. People living in unlawfully sub-let properties also often pay large amounts in rent without any security.

"Although the problem here in Swansea is nowhere near as widespread as in other parts of the UK, we're determined to take action to cut down on waiting lists for council homes and help tackle the lack of affordable housing across the city.

"Key amnesties have been successful in other local authority areas, with many properties having been recovered as a direct result and those in genuine need being housed more quickly.

"We'd urge anyone who is committing tenancy fraud in Swansea to surrender their tenancies now because that will avoid the council taking legal action against them."

Source

"Key amnesties have been successful in other local authority areas". Indeed. What took Swansea so long?

21 Feb 2017

Belated keys amnesty sees six homes returned

Six family council homes in Brighton & Hove have been made available after a successful tenancy fraud amnesty. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

Tenant frauds handed back the keys to six homes to two three-bedroom, two two-bedroom and two one-bedroom properties.

It brings the total of homes recovered from tenancy fraud in 2016/17 to 20 - saving the council up to £360,000.

The amnesty ran throughout December and January offering tenants illegally subletting their homes or keeping a social housing tenancy while living elsewhere the chance to hand their properties back to the council without fear of legal action.

It was run ahead of a new data-matching exercise launched this month which will be used to identify further illegal subletting and tenants not using their council property as their main home.

Tenant cheats uncovered through this new exercise are being warned they will face legal action.

Councillor Anne Meadows, housing and new homes committee, said: “There is a huge demand for housing in the city and it’s fantastic that the amnesty has freed up six homes that can now go to residents who need them. It has allowed us to get these homes back quickly without the additional costs of legal action. Tenancy fraud deprives residents in housing need at a huge cost to the city and we will continue to do all we can to tackle it.”

National figures suggest that tenancy fraud costs the public purse £18,000 a year for each property though with the high costs of housing people in temporary accommodation in the city, the savings for Brighton and Hove City Council are likely to be "significantly more".

Source

I am still amazed that it takes some councils so long to get round to offering a keys amnesty. I should know better by now, but I had expected they would all pounce on this as soon as the legislation was in place.

Better late than never, I suppose.

20 Feb 2017

Croydon selected to pilot anti-fraud partnership

Croydon has been selected to join forces with four other London boroughs in a major crackdown on criminals defrauding councils out of millions of pounds. (h/t Dave)

The council’s experience and success in this field has seen it teamed up with Camden, Ealing, Islington, and Southwark to pilot the London Counter Fraud Hub. This partnership will eventually extend to all boroughs in the capital to better target those responsible for unpaid council tax, illegal property letting and unpaid business rates.

The hub, which is run with data analytics provided by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), has the potential to save London taxpayers an estimated £60 million a year.

The most recent figures suggest councils are defrauded of £2.1 billion each year nationwide, including £133 million in council tax discount fraud. Last year, London councils detected fraud to the value of nearly £100 million, with housing frauds accounting for £74.5m of the total.


The initiative will help both prevent and uncover fraud within boroughs and across boundaries between boroughs, with perpetrators facing sanctions ranging from payment orders to lengthy prison sentences.

Councillor Simon Hall, cabinet member for finance and treasury, said: “I’m very pleased Croydon is at the vanguard of this new crackdown on fraudsters. It’s absolutely wrong that the majority of council tax payers should have to subsidise this sort of illegal behaviour. Croydon already has a great record in cracking down on fraud, however, by working together with other boroughs to share data we can do so much more.”

Edward Lord, OBE, Chair of London Councils’ Capital Ambition Board, said: “It is vital that we find innovative ways to ensure councils are not losing money as a result of fraud. The five boroughs piloting the hub will have access to the most sophisticated data analytics to identify potential criminals, and seeing the hub in action will allow us to build a clear picture of the situation, take swift action, and ensure money lost to fraud is recouped to be spent on public services in Camden, Ealing, Islington, Southwark and Croydon. Estimates suggest councils across the country are defrauded to the tune of £2.1bn every year. Once operating across all boroughs, the hub will help bring down this worrying total and will make uncovering and sanctioning those responsible easier.”

18 Feb 2017

Businessman jailed for property and benefits frauds

An entrepreneur from Huddersfield has been jailed for four years after he was said to have perpetrated a “web of deceit” involving benefit fraud and property and bank offences.

Sentencing Malcolm Leslie Forsyth at Leeds Crown Court, Recorder Michael Wheeler said his offending had gone on for a long time, had involved others and displayed a “staggering amount of dishonesty”.

Christopher Rose, prosecuting, told the court the offences included opening bank accounts under false names as far back as 1985 and obtaining loans dishonestly.

In 2001 he also obtained a mortgage for £113,000 in a false name for a house in Lightridge Road, Fixby, persuading a licenced conveyancer, Stephen Cox, to register it improperly along with another address in Bradford.

The appearance that the properties were owned by others allowed him and other members of his family to improperly claim benefits such as housing, council tax or income support. Mr Rose said as a result of his arranging for them to claim they were tenants in the property they were able to obtain the benefits from Bradford or Kirklees councils between 2007 to 2014.

Forsyth also claimed benefit for himself without disclosing the income that resulted from renting properties. The total benefits defrauded were £78,373.

Jonathan Lennon, representing Forsyth, said he had initially qualified as an electrician but had branched out into building and property development and was very successful. He had then opened two nursing homes but was then hit by the financial crash of 2007/2008. He sold off the nursing homes and for a time had a coffee shop in Huddersfield which was sold in 2012. Throughout he was trying to support his family and had managed to service the mortgage taken out on Lightridge Road and loans so the banks had never lost out.

Rodney Ferm, for Cox, said he had allowed himself to be persuaded by Forsyth that the building society and land registry should be deceived over the mortgage and ownership on the grounds that Forsyth already owned properties and was not likely to get a further mortgage. “He had no idea this would ever be used as a vehicle for benefit claims.”

Forsyth, 61, of Lightridge Road, admitted nine charges of fraud and seven of obtaining property or services by deception.

Cox, 69, admitted two offences of deception and was sentenced to 20 months in prison suspended for 18 months. Recorder Wheeler told him he had let his family and profession down.

Source

17 Feb 2017

Easy peasy single person benefit frauds

A greedy mum pocketed a massive £95,000 worth of benefits after failing to declare her boyfriend had moved in with her.

Amanda Smeaton has now been given a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for one year.

A district judge sitting at MK Magistrates court heard how the 46-year-old claimed a string of benefits on the basis that she was a single mum with low earnings. She was paid tax credits, council tax benefit and housing benefit over a five year period. But all the time she was living with her partner, Glen Harwood, who was bringing in wages from a full time job, MK magistrates court heard last week.

Ms Smeaton had denied she was cohabiting, and said Mr Smeaton was a “family friend” of no fixed abode.

In a prosecution carried out by the Department of work and Pensions, she pleaded guilty to three counts of fraudulent activity through failing to disclose her domestic situation.

A district judge heard the case because he has a greater power of sentencing than the magistrates. He heard the fraud continued for five years until June 2015.

Like all claimants, Smeaton had a legal duty to declare her true circumstances and to notify the benefit agencies of any change of circumstances, say the DWP. On top of the 12 month suspended sentence, she was ordered to carry out community service.

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A benefit cheat who admitted claiming thousands of pounds worth of Income Support she wasn’t entitled to has been told to carry out unpaid work.

Margaret Weir appeared at Hamilton Sheriff Court for sentencing after pleading guilty earlier this year to claiming £30,000 of Income Support and failing to notify Department of Work and Pensions officials of a change in her circumstances.

At a previous court hearing, fiscal depute Callum Forsyth said that Weir began making claims for Income Support in 1990 on the basis that she was a single parent. However, it was discovered that Weir’s ex-husband had been making financial contributions to the household.

As a result of intelligence received by the DWP, an investigation began into Weir. It was then revealed by the DWP that Weir’s ex-husband had been using the address for correspondence purposes. Weir, of Valley View, Motherwell, was then interviewed by DWP officials.

She later confessed that her ex-husband had been making payments to the household and that she had not notified the DWP of this. Weir’s solicitor told the court that since her admission of guilt Weir’s family had been saving cash in order to pay the money back.

At Hamilton Sheriff Court last week, 48-year-old Weir was put on a community payback order with supervision for the next 12 months. She was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

14 Feb 2017

Benefit fraudsters con more than £1.7m out of Halton Borough Council

Benefit fraudsters have conned Halton Borough Council out of more than £1.7m over five years.

Figures released by the local authority have shown that con artists have taken hundreds of thousands of pounds each year between 2011 and 2015.

The numbers were obtained by the Weekly News after a Freedom Of Information request was submitted to the council.

The figures cover the financial years from 2011-12 to 2015-16 and shows that a total of £1,725,520 was stolen.

For the first year £387,322 was reported stolen, with £340,643 and £383,432 in 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively. The figure dropped in 2014-15 to £359,111 and £255,012 in 2015-16.

Numbers for the current financial year were requested, but the Department For Work And Pensions took over responsibility from the council for investigating housing benefit fraud in August 2015.

The council also revealed in the request that more than 2,000 referrals were received for benefit fraud over the time period.

The number of reports dropped in each year from 593 in 2011-12 to 487 in 2012-13. A total of 474 referrals were received in 2013/14, with 430 in 2014-15 and 94 in 2015-16.

Cllr Mike Wharton, Halton Borough Council’s executive board member for resources said: “The council receives housing benefit fraud referrals from a variety of sources including the general public. Up until August 2015 the council investigated housing benefit fraud. However, since this date responsibility has passed to the Department For Work And Pensions and referrals are now passed direct to this Government department.

“The council continues to place great importance upon detecting housing benefit fraud, as indicated by the fraudulent overpayments it has uncovered over recent years, to ensure that only those who are correctly entitled to receive housing benefit do so and the public purse is not defrauded.”

Note this is only the fraud the council was aware of, so there will have been more.

11 Feb 2017

Woman jailed for £32k tax credit fraud

A fraudster has been jailed for scamming £32,000 in handouts after falsely telling benefits bosses she had split from her husband.

Investigators found out Elizabeth Hughes had posted “he’s the bestest husband” while claiming to be a single mum.

Hughes told the Department for Work and Pensions she had broken up with husband Arthur in January 2010. She kept up her lie until 2013 when she told them they had reconciled.

But in reality, they had been living as husband and wife under the same roof the entire time – with Hughes raking in tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money over the three-year period.

Childminder Hughes claimed she had struggled with financial issues and used the cash to cover debts. But investigators found debits from her bank accounts to travel firms and Facebook images of her with her husband and children on foreign holidays.

Fiscal depute Vicki Bell told Dundee Sheriff Court: “There was also a post on Facebook saying he was ‘the bestest husband’ posted during the period of the claim that she was single. Her husband was interviewed and initially said they had separated in 2009 but only reconciled late in 2012. But at the end of the interview, he said they had only separated for three or four months in 2009.

“He admitted he knew the accused had made a single person’s tax credit claim.

“A total of £32,000 was overpaid and no money has been repaid.”

Hughes, 36, from Dundee, pled guilty to a charge under the Tax Credits Act. Sheriff Alastair Carmichael jailed her for eight months.

Source