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1 Apr 2020

Benefit cheat didn't reveal wife was living with him

Benefit cheat Asim Akhtar pocketed £5,633.56 in public handouts - after failing to tell the authorities his wife had moved in with him.

The 26-year-old dad-of-two had initially legitimately claimed housing benefit and income support when he was a single parent.

But he did not inform Stoke-on-Trent City Council or the Department for Works and Pensions that his wife had started living with him.

The fraud was committed between April 2018 and March 2019.

Now Akhtar has been handed a six-month community order at North Staffordshire Justice Centre.

Prosecutor Sue Hayers said: “His wife went to live with him in April 2018 and notified her new address to her bank. That information was passed to the benefits agency and the situation was discovered.”

The defendant initially denied the offences. But he later requested a further interview and accepted his wrongdoing. He confirmed his wife had been living with him from April 2018 and he had continued to claim income support and housing benefit.

Akhtar, from Fenton, pleaded guilty to two offences of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting his entitlement to benefits.

In an interview with a probation officer the defendant accepted he had made a conscious decision not to notify the change in circumstances. He now works as a security guard at a casino and Lidl.

Kate Preston, mitigating, said the defendant has been trying to support his wife from a young age.

She said: “It was a love marriage rather than an arranged marriage that was expected of him by his parents and the wider family. Because he chose that life he was ostracised and they had no support.

“She was put in a women’s refuge for her own safety so her family would not know where she was.

“He made a legitimate claim at the outset to house him and look after the two children he was raising alone with his wife in the refuge. They rekindled their relationship and she moved in and he has not promptly notified that she has moved in. It was not to fund a lavish lifestyle. This was to feed children and keep a roof over their head.”

The community order includes a 10-day rehabilitation activity requirement. He must also pay £325 in court fines and costs.

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27 Mar 2020

Lying Plymouth gran jailed for £50,000 benefit fraud

A lying grandmother has been jailed for cheating more than £50,000 in benefits by claiming she was disabled when she was working as a cleaner.

Emma Lagrue, aged 53, said she could not walk far but was busy earning money ironing and vacuum cleaning, a court heard.

She pocketed four types of disability and other benefits for six years before she was caught by investigators.

Jailing her for 33 weeks, a judge said that immediate imprisonment was necessary because she had swindled £51,293 over such a long period.

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26 Mar 2020

Mother in systematic benefit frauds

A Facebook announcement about her engagement and surveillance of her home helped expose an auxiliary nurse as a benefit cheat.

Stephanie Metcalfe claimed almost £47,000 in state handouts she was not entitled to, on the basis she was a single parent living with her two children.

But when her home was put under surveillance and her Facebook page was checked, it was clear she was living with her fiance, who worked at Nissan .

Newcastle Crown Court heard the 29-year-old had fraudulently pocketed £46,938 in child tax credits, working tax credit and housing period, over a period of three years.

Prosecutor Alec Burns told the court the authorities obtained proof Metcalfe had someone living there and added: "They surveilled their house, had people watching him going to work at 6am on his bike. They looked at her Facebook and knew they got engaged. He was the father of her children."

He added: "She was shown the evidence of utility bills, Facebook, a holiday, there had been a holiday for the two of them and the children."

The court heard Metcalfe, from Sunderland , initially protested her innocence and claimed her partner had no key to her home and did not have meals there. She later pleaded guilty to three offences of benefit fraud.

Tom Morgan, defending, said: "What she instructs me is that there are periods of time when he was there and equally periods of time, often, when he would be gone.

"She has to accept she should have either banned him from the household or cancelled her claim and unfortunately she has done neither."

Mr Morgan said Metcalfe, who "dotes" on her children, has been "extremely anxious" about the court proceedings and has never been in any trouble before.

He added: "The concern she has is not concern for herself, all she is worried about is what will happen to her children if an immediate custodial sentence was imposed."

Judge Julie Clemitson sentenced Metcalfe to eight months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with rehabilitation requirements and 60 hours unpaid work.

The judge told her: "In the end, you received approximately £47,000 you should not have received.”

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Landlord fraudulently claimed benefits

A private housing landlord who had almost £124,000 in the bank, fraudulently claimed council tax benefits to fund a "lavish lifestyle," a court has heard.

Manju Prince made two false council tax reduction claims and a false application for council tax relief between March 13, 2017 and October 25, 2018.

Magistrates sitting at Nottingham Magistrates Court heard that Prince knowingly provided Bassetlaw District Council with false information about her personal circumstances and finances on three occasions.

Council Tax Reduction is a means tested discount to help people on a low income.

The court heard Prince signed declaration forms that stated she had no savings or income from other properties.

Evidence submitted by the council showed that at the time of the claims, Prince and her husband had a total of 19 bank accounts with a total balance of £123,593.63.

The council also produced Land Registry documents showing that Prince owns two rental properties. These were tenanted and paying rent into her accounts.

The council's legal representative told the court the 44-year-old had embarked on a sophisticated and planned attempt to commit fraud, the proceeds of which would be used to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Prince admitted to making two false council tax reduction claims and a false application for council tax relief between March 13, 2017 and October 25, 2018.

She was handed a 40-week jail sentence, suspended for 18 months and ordered to pay £9,250.19 in court costs.

Prince is also required to attend 15 rehabilitation activity requirements and engage with probation.

Cllr Kevin Dukes, cabinet member for corporate services said: “Ms Prince knowingly and willfully provided the council with false statements and information in an attempt to reduce her council tax bill.

“Council tax reduction is provided to families and individuals who are most in need and are on low incomes. This fund is limited and by making a false claim Ms Prince could have deprived a family or individual who are genuinely in need of an essential discount.

“The tough sentence handed down by the Magistrates in this case shows that neither the Council nor the Courts take fraud lightly and will impose severe penalties to people who attempt to cheat the system and deprive residents who are most in need.

“Let this be a clear message to anyone who is considering or currently committing fraud against the Council. We will investigate you and we will take action.”

In mitigation, Ms Prince said she was now separated from her husband, who lived in London during the week and only visited the marital home on weekends.

She said she was suffering from anxiety and depression, in addition to other mental health issues.

These issues began when Mr Prince was involved in an accident in 2016, which left him with a brain injury and required her to leave a well-paid job in order to care for her husband.

She claimed she is now of limited financial means.

Ms Prince also claimed that the money held in the bank accounts was tied to the rental properties she owns and also includes money to repay a substantial family loan.

However, no evidence was submitted to the court to substantiate these claims.

This matter was first brought before the court in October 2019, where Ms Prince denied the offences and entered not guilty pleas.

The case was adjourned until January 29, 2020, when Ms Prince entered a late guilty plea to both offences that were contrary to Section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006.

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25 Mar 2020

Taxi driver didn't reveal benefit fraud conviction

A woman who failed to disclose a conviction of benefit fraud has lost her taxi driver licence.

Between September 7 2014 and May 1 2018, Manjit Kaur, 45, from Watford, failed to promptly notify Watford Borough Council of a change of circumstances which she knew would affect her entitlement to housing benefit.

She then further dishonestly made a statement to her local authority with a view to obtaining housing benefit.

In court at the end of last year, she was sentenced to three counts of fraud and fined a total of £2,110.

Further to her sentence, Mrs Kaur failed to disclose her conviction to Three Rivers District Council.

The council only knew about the conviction when a licensing officer spotted her name in a court listings in this newspaper.

Mrs Kaur was subsequently interviewed under caution by licensing officers. She then admitted to the conviction and failing to disclose this information to the licensing authority as required by the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Policy 2019.

Cllr Stephen Giles Medhurst, responsible for transport and economic development at Three Rivers District Council, said: "All licensed drivers are required to advise the licensing authority within 72 hours, or when is practicably possible, of any involvement with police.

"This includes investigations and arrests so officers can undertake an assessment as to whether the driver remain fit and proper to be licensed.

"Three Rivers takes licensing of drivers and their vehicles seriously and we will not hesitate to revoke licences from those that don’t abide the rules."

After full consideration of the facts, Mrs Kaur’s private hire driver licence was revoked by Three Rivers, and she was subsequently issued with a simple caution and her details added to the National Anti-Fraud Network database.

It was deemed that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute Mrs Kaur.

24 Mar 2020

Council tax claimant hid cash

A benefit cheat has been ordered to carry out unpaid work after hiding nearly £20,000 in cash from the council.

Sukru Manga, from Orford, failed to disclose three bank accounts and £18,363 in capital to Warrington Borough Council while claiming council tax concessions over a five-year period between 2013 and 2018.

The 46-year-old admitted three counts of fraud at Warrington Magistrates Court on Wednesday, March 11.

He was told to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £375 court costs plus an £85 victim surcharge.

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16 Mar 2020

Benefit cheat must pay back £20,000 she swindled

A benefit cheat has been ordered to pay back £20,000 after she was secretly filmed by undercover investigators.

Julie Priest, aged 54, lied about her disability to pocket almost £35,000, a court heard.

She has already been handed a suspended prison sentence after a judge heard she needed mental health care – and also provided care for her sick husband.

Now Priest has been dragged back to Plymouth Crown Court for a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

She accepted that she had pocketed £34,844 in disability benefits to which she was not entitled over three years in disability benefit.

Priest was sentenced back in September on the basis that she had cheated the Department for Work and Pensions out of £17,000. But the figure has been revised after complex recalculations and negotiations between prosecution and defence.

Emily Pitts, for the Crown Prosecution Service, told the latest hearing that she had assets of £20,000 in her share of equity in a jointly-owned house. The barrister said that sum was based on the lowest estate agent’s valuation.

Judge Paul Darlow ordered that Priest pay £20,000 within three months – the longest time possible.

He added that she would face seven months in prison if she did not pay.

Judge Darlow said: “I am sure it will not come to that.”

Priest denied dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting her disability benefits between July 2015 and July 2018.

She was found guilty after a trial in August.

The jury heard that she suffered from Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease but exaggerated the impact it had on her life. She was caught out by undercover surveillance.

Priest was handed a 30-week prison sentence suspended for two years, with three months of mental health treatment. She was also ordered to complete probation’s Rehabilitation Activity Requirement and pay £100 victim surcharge.

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12 Mar 2020

Government to spend £12m p a tackling housing benefit fraud

The government has announced extra cash to help local authorities crack down on housing benefit fraud and error, as part of the housing announcements in today’s Budget.

Council resources to tackle fraud and error associated with the benefit will be bolstered by an extra £12m a year.

But the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said the policy is likely to see “diminishing returns”.

The OBR noted that housing benefit is being replaced by Universal Credit for working-age claimants but government is providing the same funding – £12m – each year, despite fewer people claiming housing benefit as a result of the switch.

The OBR said: “As a result it will target a diminishing caseload over time and [an] increasing proportion of which will be pensioners. This is likely to generate diminishing returns on compliance interventions because the remaining caseload is less likely to be in work or experience frequent changes in circumstances, so less likely to make errors in their claims.”

Overall the independent forecaster said this policy had a ‘high’ uncertainty rating.

Under current government plans, the housing benefit will be replaced by Universal Credit by 2023.

According to research in November by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, housing fraud cases fell by 23% in 2018/19.

Cases of council housing fraud fell from 4,733 in 2017/18 to 3,632 in 2018/19, while Right to Buy fraud cases more than halved from 1,518 cases to 652.

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5 Mar 2020

Illegal sub-letter must pay back gains

A housing association tenant has been ordered to pay back the £6,000 he scammed by sub-letting his flat to tourists.

Liverpool County Court heard how the Riverside tenant had been renting the flat for two years until arousing the housing officer’s suspicions.

Those suspicions exposed the tenant as subletting the flat to people via a “well-known website” that provides temporary accommodation to tourists, so she referred the case to Riverside’s tenancy fraud team.

And Riverside’s Counter Fraud Specialist took it from there to uncover clear evidence that the tenant was misusing the property by sub-letting it and making a profit from the proceeds.

Riverside contacted the tenant about this and served him with Notice to Quit, which prompted him to hand the keys back to Riverside within a week.

Riverside also took legal action that led to the County Court case and a judge awarding Riverside an Unlawful Profit Order – which means that the former tenant must pay back £6,000 that he had made unlawfully.

Speaking after the case, Michael Anderson, a Regional Services Manager with Riverside confirmed the Unlawful Profit Order was a first for the provider.

“We are really pleased with the result, we tenancy fraud very seriously and will act upon information identifying any of our properties are being misused,” he said.

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2 Mar 2020

Two fined over council tax benefit fraud

Two people received fines and costs and have to pay back thousands of pounds after admitting fraudulently claiming Council Tax Support for years while they were actually working.

Shaun Emery, 46, from Biggleswade, started to claim the benefit in March 2014 on the basis he had no earnings but the fraud team discovered he was in work the following month.

He has to re-pay £3,131.66 for the discount he received, and Luton Magistrates’ Court ordered him to pay costs of £564, a victim surcharge of £44 and fined him £442.

Lynne Morris, 51, of Spoondell, Dunstable started claiming in December 2016 although the fraud team found she too had also been working.

She has to pay back £3,118.96 as well as pay costs of £470, a victim surcharge of £39 and a fine of £390 imposed at the same hearing.

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