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28 Sep 2016

Confiscation order eventually granted

A woman who wrongly claimed nearly £43,000 in benefits must now pay nearly £60,000.

Watford mother Bushra Begum, 72, and her daughter Tabassum, 42, claimed more than £185,000 in benefits from Watford Borough Council - more here and here - note these are from 2015.

The pair had more than £260,000 hidden away in 100 different accounts but continued claiming benefits for many years.

Bushra Begum has failed to repay her £42,666 share of the fraudulent claims to Watford Borough Council and the DWP. This is despite being handed an 18-month suspended sentence in April 2015.

However, after successful confiscation proceedings, she has been ordered to pay £59,664.73 to the two organisations by Monday October 3. If she fails to pay this amount she will be sent to prison for 18 months.

Source

27 Sep 2016

Chesterfield Council advice on benefit fraud

All Housing Benefit fraud allegations are now dealt with by the Department for Works and Pensions, (DWP), although all changes in circumstances should still be reported to the benefits section at Chesterfield Borough Council. Council Tax Support fraud is still being dealt with by the council.

Failing to declare your true circumstances or not reporting a change in circumstances may lead to a fraud investigation by the DWP, who may decide to conduct a formal interview, which is recorded on CD, under caution by one or more officers from DWP.

If the decision is made that an offence has been committed, you may have to pay a penalty as well as repay the Housing Benefit overpayment. The penalty at present is 50% of the overpayment figure, subject to a minimum of £350 and a maximum of £2000, (this is called an Administrative Penalty).

If the decision is made to prosecute, you could end up in front of a magistrate to explain why you did not inform benefits of your correct circumstances. If found guilty the possible outcome may be a custodial sentence, unpaid work or a fine, for which you would also receive a criminal record.

Chesterfield Borough Council Benefits Section conduct reviews of Housing Benefit/Council Tax Support claims to ensure the correct amount of benefit/support is being paid, but should a discrepancy occur, the details will be passed to the DWP for them to consider investigating, or if Council Tax Support is in payment, then an officer from Chesterfield Borough Council may conduct an interview.

When making a claim for council benefits, or completing a form, make sure you read it thoroughly, and answer every question. If you're not sure whether you should mention something on the form, put it down anyway. The staff at the Customer Service Centre will check if it affects your entitlement. You can contact the benefits section for more information, they are happy to go through the form with you, and offer advice.

If you are already claiming, and your circumstances change, let the benefits section know as soon as possible. Again, if you're not sure that the change will affect your benefit, tell us anyway. After all, it's better to be safe than sorry.

If you believe someone is committing benefit fraud, you can report it:

By phone: call the National Fraud Hotline on 0800 854 440 (your call is free and confidential; you do not have to give your name or address).

Online: www.gov.uk/report-benefit-fraud

In writing: NBFH, P O Box 224, Preston, PR1 1GP

26 Sep 2016

Gran sobs as she is jailed for benefit fraud

A gran has been jailed in tears after claiming almost £97,000 in benefits she wasn’t entitled to.

For 13 years, Margaret Elliott failed to declare she was no longer a single parent and was living with her partner as husband and wife.

A court heard she received a total overpayment of £96,908.19 and it will take her around 30 years to pay it back at £100 a month.

Now, the sobbing 53-year-old has been locked up for six months, amid wails of despair from her daughters in the public gallery at Newcastle Crown Court.

Recorder John Thackray told her: “Your false claims have deprived the community of much needed public money. From 2002 you made false claims because you didn’t declare you were living with your partner and you made numerous dishonest representations over the years. It will take 30 years to repay.

“I take into account you are not in good health and the references which speak so well of you and I accept you are genuinely remorseful. The offences are so serious only an immediate custodial sentence can be justified.”

The court heard Elliott’s claim for benefits began legitimately in the 1990s, when she started claiming on the basis she was a lone parent and was incapacitated.

Lee Fish, prosecuting, said: “However she has received benefits to which she was not entitled because she was claiming on the basis of being a single parent. She failed to disclose that from August 2002 to February 2015 she was in fact living with her partner, who was in employment for various periods of time.

“The defendant was interviewed in February 2015 and there were some provisional denials but she went on to admit she had been living with this man for this period of time. The total overpayment is £96,908.19, she’s currently repaying this at £100 a month and it’s estimated it will take about 30 years to clear this debt.”

Elliott, from Felling, Gateshead, pleaded guilty to six benefit fraud charges and was jailed for six months.

Alec Burns, defending, said: “There are references which show what type of person she usually is, apart from this. When I first met this lady the first words she said were, ‘I did wrong, I’m really sorry’ and she started crying. She has shown genuine remorse. She suffers from clinical depression and this has made it worse.

“There were periods when her partner did not live with her and he did not work all the time but he did work most of the time. He works as a warehouse packer of frozen foods so didn’t earn a lot of money. She received disability living allowance and would have been entitled to some benefits but clearly not the amount she has received.

“She has three daughters and has not told her grandchildren, who she looks after when their parents go to work.”

Source

23 Sep 2016

Woman rightly jailed for £80k benefit fraud

A Truro woman has been jailed for benefits fraud after claiming that she was single while living with her husband.

Helen Salunga, 47, pleaded guilty to four counts of defrauding the Department for Work and Pensions, Cornwall Council and HM Revenue and Customs.

In total she fraudulently claimed £80,506.48, Truro Crown Court heard.

The first charge related to tax credits claimed from 2009 to 2014 when she told the authorities she was a single person but in fact lived with her husband who earned £17,000 to £23,000 per year.

She also said she was single on her claim for housing benefits between 2010 to 2014, falsified pay slips to help her claims and falsely claimed she was unemployed for Jobseekers' Allowance in March 2013.

Chris Spencer, for the defence, said the money was sent abroad for her family's medical expenses and that Salunga moved to the UK from the Philippines in 2004. The court heard her father, mother and brother had suffered serious illnesses and medical care in the Philippines requiring substantial sums.

Judge Simon Carr said: "You pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to a very significant benefit fraud. I accept completely that you were sending all or some of the money to family in the Philippines. While having sympathy for that situation when a limited public financial purse is used in a way it is not intended it could prevent others receiving benefits they should."

Judge Carr gave Salunga nine-month prison sentences for all four charges, to run concurrently.

Source

22 Sep 2016

Light sentences for tax and benefit frauds

The self-styled 'king of male strip tease shows', Barry Solomons, has been jailed for 28 months for tax evasion and benefit fraud.

The 71-year-old from Bristol is the founder of male stripper troupes 'Dreamboys' and 'Dream Idols', and also wrote The power behind the Pouch.

Solomons, also known as Barri Bacco, claimed £175,390.01 in fraudulent benefits while not declaring an income of more than £219,000. He also evaded £38,731.47 in income tax between 2005 and 2013, Blackfriars Crown Court heard.

His former business partner Laurel Goodman, 55, fraudulently claimed £122,716.82 in benefits, did not declare an income of more than £402,000 and evaded £30,434.18 of income tax between 2007 and 2013.

Solomons also claimed housing benefits for two separate properties from Islington Borough Council and Goodwin claimed for a house from Barnet Borough Council.

Prosecutor Andrew Evans said the pair were investigated by the DWP for fraud and tax evasion totalling £404,661.70. "They failed to show the man everything, in fact they did not show him anything. It was the bare faced cheek of projecting themselves as established members of the industry while taking money from the public purse."

Mr Evans said Solomons described himself as the 'self styled king of male strip tease shows' in his autobiography The Power Behind the Pouch. In the book he claims to have provided 'women of all ages eye candy' while 'unleashing handsome hunks with hard muscular torsos' that make 'thousands of woman drool' with their 'sexy glamour.'

The Dreamboys made regular guest appearances on British TV and toured the world including across Europe and Dubai, the court was told. Solomons and Goodman also arranged regular nights at celebrity haunts in London including Pacha, making thousands of pounds in profits.

Solomons lost the rights to use the name 'Dreamboys' after failing to ever register the name as a trademark. A former dancer with the troupe realised this and registered it himself and then employed Solomons to help run the troupe, the court heard.

Both Solomons and Goodman are no longer associated with Dreamboys, which is now under new ownership.

In his autobiography Solomons said about Goodman: 'She tried to double deal me over our business relationship.' Solomons first met her when she turned up at his office with her boyfriend Lorenzo Amoruso and told him she had a new Dreamboy for him.

After this meeting they forged a business relationship and she became a key player in the organisation and money handling for the Dreamboys, said Mr Evans.

Goodman had been claiming since 1995 that she was unable to work due to claustrophobia and agoraphobia when really she was involved with the running of the 'Dream Boys'. She also ran Destiny Rising, a company offering psychic readings earning £18,500, said Mr Evans.

After she split from Solomons she started a rival troupe 'Here Come the Boys' a UK tour promoted as a reunion tour of the original Chippendales.

She unsuccessfully tried to launch Amoruso's pop career through a new company Superstar Entertainment and received £76,000 from a company called US Nutrition for using him in an advertising campaign for a new drink, said Mr Evans.

Goodman also worked 'self-employed' on a phone sex-line and organised 'exclusive ladies events' but didn't declare any of this income to the HRMC.

Both Solomans and Goodman were arrested during searches of their homes in July 2013. Solomons, who had a heart attack in 2011, was sent to prison for 28 months.

Goodman failed to turn up at Blackfriars Crown Court on Monday and she remains on the run after a warrant was issued for her arrest on September 7. She was also sentenced to 28 months in her absence to 28 months and will be later further sentenced for being absent from court.

Solomons, wearing a smart blue pinstripe suit, rocked forward and held his head in his hands as Judge Jane Sullivan jailed him for 28 months.

Solomans, of Sussex Place, Bristol, admitted one count of evasion of income tax, two counts of making a false statement on a DWP form, one count of fraudulently obtaining pension credits, one count of making a false statement to Islington Council on a housing benefit form, one count of claiming housing benefits by deception and one count of claiming an exemption from tax.

Goodman, from Golders Green, admitted one count of evading income tax, two counts of failing to notify the DWP of a change of circumstances and two counts of failing to inform Barnet Council of a change of circumstances resulting in false claiming of housing benefits.

Source with pictures

21 Sep 2016

Benefit thief claims she is concerned about her good character

A woman who claimed she was single and her estranged partner was only sleeping in a car in the driveway (!) has been sentenced for benefit fraud. (h/t Dave)

Melanie Fincham's claims were fraudulent from the outset and she pocketed £39,301, Nottingham Crown Court heard. She had claimed she was a lone parent, single, and had no other income - when her estranged partner was actually living with her.

Fraud investigators began to delve into her background. She had claimed her other half worked away in the week and returned at weekends, and parked his car in their driveway and slept in the car.

Prosecutor Duncan Craig said when she was asked why he did not stay with relatives on the same street, the reply was that they "did not get on". "She acknowledged she did his washing, not his ironing, and acknowledged he did some gardening," he said. "She said they were estranged and not in a relationship."

Despite Fincham's claims, she went on to admit four allegations of fraud.

Mr Craig told the court - where Fincham received 18 months in prison, suspended for 18 months - that she fraudulently claimed more than £4,000 in income support; more than £6,000 in Job Seeker's Allowance; and failed to declare a change in her circumstances between May 2, 2012, and April 13, 2015, regarding £15,047.99 in Employment Support Allowance, housing benefit to the tune of £16,594.54, and council tax worth more than £2,000.

The Department for Work and Pensions had received intelligence on June 7, 2014, that she was cohabiting with her estranged partner.

Fincham, who was of previous good character, was living at two addresses in Devon Road in Newark, he said. Two vehicles – a silver Land Rover Discovery and a white Ford Transit - both registered to her partner, were parked outside one of the addresses in Devon Road. He was paying the TV Licence, a Virgin Media account and had a bank account registered to his name at one of the addresses.

Mr Craig, referring to the sentencing guidelines, said the fraud was over a sustained period – five years – and was fraudulent from the outset.

Sarah Munro, mitigating, told the court the defendant was repaying the money. "To lose your character at 46 in such a dramatic way is something Mrs Fincham is deeply upset about," she said. "She has lost a lot. She tells me in law she appreciates she has done wrong. Initially she was not with her partner. For five days a week he was away. They were not in a relationship."

Recorder Martine Kushner said: "The reality is you received money for board from your estranged husband while you were not in a relationship." She said she had taken into account Fincham's plea of guilty, her loss of character and she that was repaying the money.

Source

16 Sep 2016

Benefit thief's prison sentence confirmed

A Middlesbrough pensioner caged for a £40,000 benefits fraud can have “no complaints” about his tough sentence, senior judges have ruled.

Edward Blackburn was jailed for 12 months at Teesside Crown Court in April after he admitted fraud by failing to disclose a change in circumstance.

The 65-year-old claimed various benefits without disclosing that his wife had secured work, London’s Appeal Court heard.

“As a result, £40,000 in benefits was wrongly paid out,” said Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, who was sitting with Lady Justice Sharp and Mrs Justice Laing. “Blackburn misled the authorities by not telling them that his partner had got work. The fraud lasted for four years, from 2010 to 2014, and the amount involved was very considerable.”

Blackburn’s crime was made all the worse by the fact that he had been warned about a previous benefits scam some years earlier for which he “managed to escape prosecution”.

“That was a shot across his bows and a clear warning from the authorities,” said the judge, who added: “Unfortunately he chose to ignore that”.

“He cannot in our view complain at all about this sentence”, he concluded. “The net sentence cannot on any view be regarded as manifestly excessive. The appeal is dismissed.”

Source

15 Sep 2016

£32k benefit fraudster jailed

A former care worker who raked in more than £30,000 in benefits she had no right to claim has been jailed for four months after offering to pay back just £150 a month.

Maureen Franklin, 63, received housing benefit, council tax benefit and employment support allowance after losing her job with Housing & Care 21 due to health issues.

She applied for payments totalling £32,985.10 over four years on the basis she was a single woman unfit to work with no means of support.

But Franklin failed to tell the Department for Work and Pensions she had been paid more than £16,000 along with a lump sum of £21,595.09 from Westminster Council in pension payments.

Franklin moved to the UK from St Lucia almost 40 years ago and had worked as a carer for 17 of those years, Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.

She also failed to disclose that she was living in a house owned by her son.

Franklin has since agreed to repay £150 per month – which will take her almost 18 years to settle.

She pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly making false statements to obtain benefits last month.

Ibrahim Hussain, defending, said Franklin gave up working and applied for benefits due to her health issues and advice she received afterwards. She has constant severe back pain, which leaves her only able to walk with a stick, and arthritis. Franklin has shown ‘deep regret and remorse’ and was ‘putting her hands up to the matter’, added Mr Hussain.

But jailing Franklin for four months the judge, Mr Recorder Jonathan Mann, QC, said: ‘There has been no material attempt to repay the £33,000. I am told that you are now paying back £150 per month but the reality is that that will take a number of years to repay. I am a little surprised that there has been very little attempt to repay that sum.’

Frederick, from Dagenham, east London, was jailed for four months. One of her sons could be heard bawling in the public gallery as his mother was led to the cells.

Source

14 Sep 2016

Concentrix claims £300m savings but failed in duty of care

Concentrix, the US firm accused of incorrectly withdrawing tax credits from hundreds of claimants, will not have its contract renewed, HMRC says. The firm, employed by the government to cut tax credit fraud and overpayment, will, however, complete its current contract which expires in May 2017.

In the eight months until then Concentrix will work on clearing outstanding cases, said HMRC.

Concentrix said it had operated "within the guidance set by HMRC". "The HMRC statement not to renew the contract attacks our professional credibility, and the commitment of our staff who have performed determinedly, despite the issues with HMRC policies and procedures," said a spokesperson.

Concentrix won a £75m contract to try to save the government more than £1bn in incorrect or fraudulent tax credit payments in May last year.

But in a statement on Tuesday, HMRC's chief executive Jon Thompson said: "While it's right that we ensure that tax credits customers only receive the money to which they're entitled, it is vital that those customers have a high level of service. That's why we have decided not to extend our contract with Concentrix and HMRC is redeploying 150 staff so that customers can get through to advisers and resolve any issues about their claim."

The Treasury has revealed 120 cases since last October where Concentrix did not "fully" meet the performance standards laid out in its contract. But it is feared the actual number may be higher. The Facebook campaign group Concentrix Mums, which has 5,600 members, says hundreds more people have been affected by errors.

Labour MP and chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee Frank Field, who had urged the government to investigate concerns over Concentrix, welcomed HMRC's decision, saying the firm's "reign of terror" was coming to a close. "The government has acted decisively in protecting vulnerable Britain. This holds out huge prospects and, for some exploiters, horror, in the near future," he added.

The BBC earlier reported the case of Nicola McKenzie, a teenage mother who had her child tax credits stopped after she was wrongly accused of being married to a 74-year-old dead man.

Tax credits - the Child Tax Credit and the Working Tax Credit - are government payments made to households on low incomes.

Concentrix's government contract is based on a payment-by-results model, with the "maximisation of revenue flows" as one of its key requirements - meaning it makes more money if it cuts more payments.

But a spokesperson for the firm said it had not been incentivised to make wrong decisions for claimants.

The spokesperson added: "In-fact [we] would be penalised heavily for failure to adhere to HMRC policies and procedures. Through the term of the contract we are pleased to have saved the taxpayer nearly £300m in authentic confirmed tax fraud and error which otherwise would have cost the taxpayer money".

Essentially Concentrix decided to try to bully those in need and do their work on the cheap. Sadly, this may give payment by results a bad name.

13 Sep 2016

Concentrix under attack for crass tax credit errors

A teenage mother had her child tax credits stopped after she was wrongly accused of being married to a dead 74-year-old man, the BBC has learned.

Nicola McKenzie is one of hundreds of people complaining they have been incorrectly punished by the US firm Concentrix, used by the government to cut tax credit fraud and overpayment. She is struggling to feed her son, she told the Victoria Derbyshire programme.

The government said Concentrix would "not be paid" for wrong decisions.

This is not the point. Do they suffer any penalty if they have people's tax credits stopped wrongly?

The Treasury has revealed 120 cases since last October where the company did not "fully" meet the performance standards laid out in its contract. But it is feared the actual number may be higher. The Facebook campaign group Concentrix Mums, which has 5,600 members, says hundreds more people have been affected by errors.

Labour MP Louise Haigh is demanding that Concentrix be stripped of its contract, saying: "They've stopped people's benefits on a quite incredible scale in order to chase profits."

Ms McKenzie, a 19-year-old single mother from West Yorkshire, received a letter from the company saying her child tax credits would be cancelled. "Basically they were accusing me of being married to a 74-year-old bloke that used to live here way before I did, saying that it's a normal thing for my kind of age," she said. "When I spoke to the council, they said he was deceased and died on 5 July 2016. Then they said 'Well, you still need to get him to make contact with us'. And I said 'Well, heaven doesn't have opening hours, so what do you want me to do about that?'."

Ms McKenzie said she had lost £64 a week, which meant she was finding it difficult to provide nappies and food for her two-year-old son.

In May last year, Concentrix won a £75m contract to try to save the government more than £1bn in incorrect or fraudulent tax credit payments.

Tax credits - the Child Tax Credit and the Working Tax Credit - are government payments made to households on low incomes. Concentrix's government contract is based on a payment-by-results model, with the "maximisation of revenue flows" as one of its key requirements - meaning it makes more money if it cuts more payments.

Sharon Scargill, a mother from West Yorkshire, told the Victoria Derbyshire programme her tax credits had been cut after she received a letter from the company saying she was living with another woman of whom she had never heard. "I've got £20 to last me two weeks, as of yesterday, to feed me and my daughter and for the bills that I'm supposed to pay and the gas and electric," she said.

Ms Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley, said some people receiving the letters were confusing them with a phishing scam, as they asked for "very personal details", such as bank statements and information on partners' details. The problems with Concentrix were on a "grand scale", she added.

But an HM Revenue and Customs spokesperson said support was "available for those who need it", adding: "We take great care to make sure that correct tax credit payments are made to prevent customers getting into debt, which they may struggle to repay. Payments to Concentrix are based on the quality and accuracy of their work. They will not be paid if the decisions they make about claimants' awards are wrong."

Not paying them is not the point. How are they penalised for having tax credit payments stopped wrongly?

A Concentrix spokesman said: "We recognise that the re-evaluation of individual tax credits claims can be difficult for all concerned. We adopt a rigorous process at every stage to ensure we manage this process responsibly, and in full accordance with the protocols and guidance set by HMRC."

That's a lie.

This blog opposes all benefit fraud. But tackling it this way is utterly wrong.