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29 Nov 2016

Bedford tenancy cheat ordered to pay £35,000

Omid Hashemi, of Alamein Avenue, Bedford, has been ordered to pay back almost £35,000 after being prosecuted for lying to obtain low cost social housing. Hashemi was also sentenced to a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

Hashemi was housed in social housing by bpha after claiming that he, his wife and his younger brother were living in overcrowded conditions.

However an investigation revealed that Hashemi owned a three bedroom house, purchased just three months before applying for housing, which he rented out for profit.

Hashemi, was prosecuted at Luton Crown Court where he pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud by false representation and was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years.

Following the conviction, joint working by Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire Council enabled an application to be made to seize Hashemi’s assets. The court heard evidence that Hashemi benefited from his crime and ordered him to pay almost £35,000, which represented all of his available assets. The amount must be paid within three months or Hashemi will face nine months in prison.

Councillor Michael Headley, said: “There are families across the Borough who genuinely need a place to call home and those who commit tenancy fraud take these homes from those most in need. As well as disadvantaging other members of our community, tenancy fraud also increases pressure on other services at a time when Bedford Borough Council faces continued cuts in funding.”

Source

Note: The kicker punishment came not in the suspended sentence but in the order to repay £35,000.

24 Nov 2016

Poor legal process in sub-letting case

A council tenant in Kensal Rise has been ordered to pay back almost £10,000 and has placed under a curfew for illegally subletting his flat.

Harry Lambert rented out the one-bedroom property on the open market for three years while he lived at another address in Willesden.

The 38-year-old was caught when his tenants allowed a gas engineer carrying out works on behalf of Brent Housing Partnership into the flat and an investigation was launched.

Last week he admitted dishonestly sub-letting his council property under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 and was sentenced to a 12-week curfew between 12 noon and 12 midnight each weekend.

A very light punishment for an offence carried on over three years.

An unlawful profit order totalling £9,276 was made which he must pay back to the council and also pay the costs of bringing the case to court.

Civil action is now underway to evict him so that the property can be returned back to Brent Council.

So not only a light sentence, a clunky legal process.

Cllr Harbi Farah, Brent Council’s cabinet member for housing, said:

“Brent Council is absolutely committed to tackling housing fraud. With council properties in such high demand, it is completely unacceptable that some individuals are trying to break the law for personal gain. This successful prosecution of a council tenant who illegally sublet his home to private tenants - shows how seriously we take these offences.”

Source

23 Nov 2016

CCTV helps Sandwell prove sub-letting

Fraudsters who were sub-letting Sandwell Council houses have been caught out - saving the authority up to £400,000.

Officers in the council’s CCTV control room together with its counter fraud team have recently recovered four properties which were being fraudulently sub-let.

Each council property recovered from fraudsters is an estimated saving to the local authority of £93,000.

Councillor Steve Eling, Sandwell Council leader, said:
We have had four cases recently where the CCTV images provided by our control room have been invaluable in helping to prove the fraud. Sub-letting our properties is not only illegal but it also prevents families from being housed legitimately.
The joint effort between Sandwell’s CCTV control room and the counter fraud team has seen properties go back into legitimate use - offering up significant savings to the council.

In three instances, CCTV footage showed properties being used by people other than the tenant and in the fourth, images showed a tenant living at a different property resulting in benefit fraud over-payments.

Savings for the council are determined following a report called Protecting the Public Purse 2015.

The Cabinet Office looked into the costs to local authorities including people on waiting lists, in temporary accommodation, fraudulent benefits claims, legal costs to evict people and it was estimated the overall saving for each property recovered was on average £93,000.

All four of the recent tenancies were ended and the individuals involved are unlikely to be housed by the council again.

Source

No word or prosecutions or compensation orders?

18 Nov 2016

Hardened criminal couple exploited benefits system

A former NHS nurse and her husband have been jailed after stealing their neighbours’ identities to scrounge over £30,000 of benefit handouts – which they frittered away on partying.

Amanda Heseltine, 34, and 45-year old Richard Connell collected their neighbours’ details while selling cleaning products door-to-door – then used the details to make fraudulent benefit claims.

The jobless pair collected income support, employment support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and social fund payments – as Heseltine exploited her knowledge of the UK welfare system, learned during her time working for the NHS, to help her husband rake in the cash.

Over a three year period, taxpayers’ cash was diverted into the pair’s bank accounts after they hijacked the personal details of 23 people.

Investigators discovered Heseltine – who used to work at Burnley General Hospital in Lancashire – and Connell had submitted benefits application forms using sick notes forged from genuine documents.

The couple, from Nelson, Lancashire, also made phone calls and sent correspondence posing as genuine claimants. All the people they canvassed on the doorstep insisted they had not handed over personal details.

At Burnley Crown Court Heseltine and Connell were both jailed for two years after each admitted 23 counts of fraud totalling £30,497.78 between April 2013 and March 2016.

But neither will have to pay any money back – because both of them claim to be broke.

They'll be back on benefits when they come out.

The couple – who have been together 16 years and have a string of convictions for dishonesty matters – had already been receiving handouts including housing benefit and employment support allowance.

Prosecutor Miss Amanda Johnson said the case involved the identity theft of 23 genuine claimants and added: “Their identities were hijacked by the defendants who used them to make fraudulent benefits claims for income support, employment support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and social fund payments. Applications forms were completed and submitted for different benefits by the defendants, along with doctored or forged medical certificates. They made phone calls posing as genuine customers and sent correspondence to the relevant departments. They operated a number of bank accounts into which payments were made.”

Miss Johnson added the victims all admitted they knew the couple ”personally or indirectly”, as Nelson is a small community.

She said: “All confirmed they had not handed over their details to these defendants or participated in this scheme. The defendants had the information by means of canvassing door-to-door, selling a product.”

The court heard Connell had 86 previous offences on his record whilst Heseltine had 15 offences.

Defence lawyer Richard Taylor said: ”They didn’t themselves go looking for an opportunity to commit these offences, that they were initially approached. They accept there was an illegal opportunity to make money and use their knowledge of the benefits system to make the relevant claims in a variety of ways. It would have been impossible for them to do that without detailed information from each person named in the charge sheet.

“They accept they are both equally involved over a three-year period and they kept 50 per cent of the of the monies obtained illegally. That’s why it was paid into different accounts over which the victims had no control. The sophistication appears to be their own knowledge of the benefits system. They had no trappings of luxury.”

Judge Mr Recorder Nick Clarke, QC, told the couple: ”You were both in receipt of benefits designed to be sufficient to meet all needs like heat, light, warmth and clothing. Unfortunately, you are hardened criminals, who seek to exploit whatever system you can to extract money in as many different ways as you can. You identified a vulnerability in the processes that you sought to exploit. You used your inside knowledge of the workings of the various schemes and everything else you knew about how claims can be made and how payments can be diverted to accounts over which you have control. You consistently and persistently made fraudulent claims – it was almost on a commercial scale.”

Last week in a ‘farewell’ Facebook post Heseltine said: ”Last weekend peeps for a while so its gonna be emotional but I wanna thank everyone who has and continues to be the rocks by my side. Keep shining my amazing family and lets try get through it smiling.

”I am so blessed to have you all but know that wherever I may be you are all kept in my heart and I am so thankful and proud of each of you look after each other. Im coming out tnite mite as well go out with a bang!!!! Need one last time with all my nearest just gonna paint on the smile and dance my ass off.”

Source with pictures

14 Nov 2016

Benefit fraud was just one of her scams

Dishonest Angel Jackson, 52, was labelled a “vain and self-important” crook with a “staggering contempt for the court” when she was locked up for seven years this week. (h/t Dave)

The professional fraudster, from Mitcham, south London, established a complex of web of lies to claim housing benefit, income support and compensation over 10 years between 2002 and 2012.

The scheming Ghanian bought two swanky flats complete with their own gym in Croydon, south London, each for £300,000 and fraudulently claimed housing benefit for each of them.

She was finally jailed for seven years at Croydon Crown Court after a jury found her guilty of some 32 charges relating to her twisted fraud campaign.

Judge Adam Hiddleston said: “You are a thoroughly dishonest person. You are a professional fraudster. It’s your life’s work. You have taken and taken and it would appear, you have never given anything back. How many school places or hospital beds could have been provided by the local authorities with the money you took? You created numerous personalities, changed your name, created false documentation, you have even deceived your own ex-husband, taking everything he had, including dignity.”

Jackson was so deceitful the prosecution admitted not knowing her real name for years.

Francesca Levett, prosecuting, told the jury greedy Jackson tried to wring every penny in compensation for two car accidents using invented passengers. She was only caught when doctors spotted two separate X-rays on two separate claims were almost identical.

The crook lied to local authorities and the Department of Work and Pensions for a decade to defraud a staggering £191,414.

Ms Levett added: “Far from being an honest claimant, who turned to the authorities because she was genuinely in need, she manipulated the system, told countless lies, hijacked identities and defrauded her way into becoming an affluent property owner without ever working a single day.”

When Jackson’s home was raided in September 2012, officers found £22,000 in £50 notes hidden in a wardrobe, reams of counterfeit paperwork and 12 mobile phones.

Jurors heard the 52-year-old liar lured her soon-to-be hubby Irish-born Thomas Duffy by telling him she was a “lady of traditional values”. They bought a house in August 2002 but Jackson went behind his back to obtain his UK residency to support her own. In July 2005, lowlife Jackson bought another house — a £150,000 flat in south London — in her husband’s name, without him knowing. She splurged another £152,000 on another flat in the same building just two months later. The court was told Jackson continued to lie to Mr Duffy, leaving him “confused, depressed and fragile” over a number of years.

The selfish fraudster rented out one of her flats to a couple in 2011 for £880-a-month but also claimed £600-a-month in housing benefits on the property, unbeknown to the tenants.

Jackson denied 32 fraud offences.

Source with pictures

9 Nov 2016

Important: Disappointing recoveries of social housing

Only 54 social housing properties were recovered this year as part of efforts to stamp out tenancy fraud, a report from the Cabinet Office’s National Fraud Initiative (NFI) has revealed.

The NFI report said it is “disappointed” by the 37% decrease, down from 86 properties in the last reporting period in 2014. The report published on Friday said: “It is disappointing that, since our report in June 2014, there has been a decrease of 37%… This decrease, when compared to our previous reporting period of 86 properties, continues to be a trend [235 properties were recovered in 2010/11].”

The report added: “We will work with our key stakeholders in this area to better understand the reasons behind the decrease in properties recovered so we can enhance our data matching to better help tackle tenancy fraud.”

The NFI said it is also disappointed that only 32 out of 1,582 housing associations chose to take part in its audit. Out of these 32 associations six properties were unlawfully occupied.

The total cost to the public purse of social housing fraud is estimated to be £919m. “Given the scale of the potential fraud loss to the public purse, it is vital that housing associations play their part in tackling tenancy fraud,” the report said.

Only two tenants were prosecuted this year. In one case a tenant provided false immigration papers when in fact he did not have the right to remain in the UK. The claimant also provided a false passport, which allowed him to claim housing and council tax benefit. He has been evicted and arrested, and his case is due to be heard in court.

The Voluntary Right to Buy for housing associations and Pay to Stay for councils could present future fraud risks, the NFI said.

Since the government has offered tenants a larger discount through Right to Buy, the NFI said councils have only stopped four applications that were in progress, compared to 21 in 2014. The report said this might indicate that the fraud risk is “not as big as other indicators suggest or that NFI is not currently an effective tool to identify Right to Buy fraud”.

The report said last year 1.2 million families were waiting for social housing and “identifying unlawful sub-letting would free up properties for those on the waiting list”. Tenancy fraud should be a “key priority” for councils and housing associations, the report added.

Policy leader for the National Housing Federation, John Bryant, said housing associations did not take part in the National Fraud Initiative because “they decided it wasn’t going to be particularly helpful in efforts to combat fraud.”

Mr Bryant said it is wrong to assume housing associations are not tackling fraud because they are not involved with the NFI. He said associations are “alert and alive” to the risks of fraud and deal with it as a “priority”.

Source

Come on, Mr Bryant, tell us the numbers! They should be huge.

Illegal sub-letting of social housing is a wicked crime. It's not just the (considerable amount of) money - people and families who need a home are being deprived of it.

8 Nov 2016

Tax credit fraud leads to compensation order

A mum-of-three who cheated the benefits system out of more than £32,000 was ordered to hand it back.

Joanne Crumbleholme was jailed for 24 weeks in July after admitting being knowingly concerned in fraudulently obtaining tax credits.

Liverpool Crown Court that she had begun her claim legitimately after splitting up with her husband Paul Crumbleholme. When she got back together with her husband, who was working, she did not reveal this and carried on claiming.

Kevin Slack, prosecuting, said that between April 2010 and September last year Crumbleholme, who has no previous convictions, fraudulently obtained £32,472.

The 45-year-old of Edmund Drive, Leigh, re-appeared at court for a Proceeds of Crime Hearing and an out-of-court settlement was reached.

It was agreed that she had benefitted by £33,836, allowing for inflation, and has realisable assets, involving her share of the family home and a Nissan car, totalling £35,000.

The judge, Recorder Michael Blakey, imposed a confiscation and a compensation order in the sum of £32,472 to HMRC. If the money is not repaid in three months she faces 18 months imprisonment in default.

Source with picture

Benefits cheat must have known she was breaking the law

Being a benefits cheat might seem like a faceless crime to some, where there is no real victim because it's not money belonging to a person it's money belonging to the 'state', writes Jules Crouch. (h/t Dave)

But nothing could be further from the truth because for every penny stolen from the public purse, we all suffer. It's our money and you may as well be stealing it from a pensioner's purse or a a baby's hand.

Payments such as housing and unemployment benefit should only go to those who truly need it and would otherwise not get by. These are the hard working normal people who have fallen on hard times then it is right and proper that they are given a hand by the state until they get back on their feet.

Few people would resent the state stepping into the help out in this situation. But there are some people who think that they can plunder what is the taxpayers' money and use it for their own ends by wilfully claiming what they are not entitled to, and when they do not deserve it.

This was the case with 28-year-old benefits cheat Ellie Clulow, of Barton under Needwood, who stole more than £46,000 after failing to admit she was living with her partner. She has appeared at Stafford Crown Court where she pleaded guilty to six charges of fleecing the taxpayer out of a total £46,455.

This is a shocking amount of money to have conned the country out of. It's inconceivable that Ellie Clulow did not know she was breaking the law.

It was a light sentence. She was made the subject of a six-month jail sentence suspended for two years, and will be the subject of a four-month curfew, must do 120 hours unpaid work and pay a £100 victim surcharge.

7 Nov 2016

Ex council officer worked the system

A former Croydon Council employee who used her knowledge of the benefits system to her own advantage has been given a suspended prison sentence. (h/t Dave)

An investigation by the council’s corporate anti-fraud team found that Khush Thapar, 45, of Hartley Down, Coulsdon, had fraudulently claimed more than £6,000 in direct care payments.

She appeared at Croydon Crown Court, on 28 October, having previously pleaded guilty to a charge of dishonest false accounting, under the Theft Act 1968. It was found that she had misused direct payments awarded to her, which were designed to pay for her care needs.

An investigation was launched following her failure to maintain an audit trail of her use of the payments. It was established that, over the three-year period to 2012, she had used some of the payments in an unauthorised way to pay baby sitters while she went out socialising. The deception resulted in an overpayment of £6,365.

In her defence, she maintained she didn’t fully understand the direct payments scheme. The court heard, however, that she was a former employee of Croydon Council, where one aspect of her job included advising clients about the scheme.

His Honour Judge Ainley said that Thapar had used her knowledge of the scheme, and seized an opportunity to use the money to pay for things that she knew were not permitted.

He imposed a custodial sentence of 18 weeks, suspended for two years, and ordered her to pay £1,000 toward the cost of the prosecution.

Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice, said: “It’s always sad when somebody uses their inside knowledge of a particular system and abuses that system for personal gain. It’s particularly sad when that person used to work for the council and manipulated a payment scheme that’s designed to help those who genuinely need that assistance. The diligence of our corporate anti-fraud team, however, is to be congratulated for bringing this crime to light and gathering sufficient evidence to secure a successful prosecution.”

2 Nov 2016

Norfolk aims to clamp down on blue badge misuse

A county-wide crackdown on blue badge fraud is hoped to make life easier for disabled drivers.

Norfolk County Council has revealed it is to place greater focus on ensuring blue badges are being used correctly, after it was estimated that 20% are misused in some way.

With 42,000 currently in use in Norfolk, the council has stressed the importance of making sure they are not being used either incorrectly, or fraudulently.

This could be as simple as allowing somebody else to use your badge, parking next to a lowered kerb or just refusing to show your badge when requested by a civil enforcement officer. It could also be displaying an out-of-date badge or parking too close to a junction.

Jim Blake, blue badge investigator for Norfolk County Council said: “More and more blue badges are being misused in some way around the county and this is a criminal matter. When blue badges are issued they come with a booklet that explains the correct usage, so my advice would be to thoroughly read these through.”

As part of the crackdown, civil enforcement officers will have a greater presence around the county - excluding Norwich, which governs its own street parking - to offer advice to help people understand how not to misuse their badges. They will also be logging details of when a blue badge is misused - so as to track re-offenders.

In the second half of the month, they will then begin to issue penalty charge notices, reporting offenders to the blue badge investigator, which may result in Magistrates’ Court summons and fines of up to £1,000.

Mr Blake added: “If a civil enforcement officer asks to see your badge, please let them do so as people using their own badge correctly have nothing to worry about.”

He also advised holders to carefully check when their badges expire, not to make photocopies, and to alert the council if they witness anybody using a blue badge fraudulently.

Graham Footer, chief executive of Disabled Motoring UK, said: “DMUK fully supports local authorities enforcing the blue badge scheme. Many local authorities are taking this problem seriously and use enforcement to protect the scheme for genuine blue badge holders. We hope this will encourage other local authorities to do the same.”

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