11 Feb 2016

So Mr Fong knows no one who can translate for him?

A pensioner who illegally claimed £68,000 in benefits while his wife is alleged to have “hundreds of thousands of pounds” in the bank has been told to ask her for help or be locked up. (h/t Dave)

Chung Fong, 75, who has been in the UK for 45 years, appeared before a judge at Cardiff Crown Court on Wednesday saying he did not have a solicitor – because they had demanded a £5,000 payment and he couldn’t afford it.

He also told the court he did not understand a word of English and appeared with a Cantonese interpreter at his side.

He was facing a sentence of up to three years having pleaded guilty in January, through an interpreter, to two charges of benefit fraud and having been urged by Recorder of Cardiff Judge Eleri Rees to seek legal advice before the next hearing.

He had also been told the same thing when before a different judge last December, said prosecutor Ruth Smith, who also told the court this week: “His wife is believed to have hundreds of thousands in her bank account.”

Ms Smith said if that was the case he would not have been entitled to claim benefits.

But when Fong, from Newport, turned up unrepresented for a third time he told Recorder Peter Griffiths QC he had been to see solicitors but they wanted £5,000 and he couldn’t afford it. “I was told because my wife had money I wasn’t allowed legal aid,” he said.

The court was advised that anyone with joint assets of more than £37,000 would not be entitled to free legal help.

Fong’s court-funded interpreter translated that he did not fully understand what was going on and was maintaining he could not afford legal advice.

He’d also had “a pile” of legal papers sent to him, outlining the case, before he pleaded guilty – but he hadn’t understood those either.

Fong was bailed again but this time told there would be a condition on his bail that he sees a solicitor within seven days and takes all the legal papers as well as his family bank statements, and preferably his wife, with him.

When it was pointed out that there would not be an interpreter at the solicitor’s office and no one would agree to fund one if legal aid was not in place the judge asked Fong if, after 45, years he had made any friends who speak English. “No”, he replied, in Cantonese.

Recorder Griffiths said he could not order Fong’s wife to go to a solicitor with him or tell her to pay for legal assistance but added: “I am told he has a good relationship with her and the court hopes he will be able to persuade her to accompany him. He should be legally represented either by having legal aid granted or asking his wife if she is, at least, prepared to fund representation at the next hearing.”

He told Fong: “The patience of the court is not unlimited.

“Tell him if he breaches the bail conditions he can be remanded to prison.”


8 Feb 2016

Easy to get away with

A benefit cheat who fraudulently claimed £21,000 fraud has avoided jail.

For seven years Rebecca Hehir, 34, failed to tell Cheshire East Council and the Department for Work and Pensions that her partner was living with her when she claimed for a reduction in council tax and housing benefit.

The fraud lasted from May 18, 2007 to February 2, 2014, and came to more than £21,000.

Hehir, from Macclesfield, admitted two charges of fraud by false representation at Macclesfield magistrates’ court.

She was sentenced to prison for 16 weeks, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to complete 150 hours unpaid work.

Hehir will have to pay back the full overpayment and was also told she must also pay prosecution costs of £1,025.


4 Feb 2016

Manager admits £100k benefit frauds

An engineering manager from Borough Green has admitted cheating the taxpayer out of more than £100,000 in benefits.

David Rothwell, 66, pleaded guilty to seven counts of benefit fraud totalling £109,152.53 at Sevenoaks Magistrates' Court on Monday.

Rothwell claimed Jobseeker's Allowance from December 2002 until April 2009 but failed to tell the Department for Work and Pensions when he found employment at Imperial College in London from January 2004 until March 2007 and then at John Laing Integrated Services from August 2008 until the present day.

He also admitted carrying out housing and council tax benefit fraud against Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council for more than 11 years, from January 2004 until May 2015, when his offences came to light.

Rothwell, an engineering compliance manager and maintenance coordinator for John Laing Integrated Services, claimed all the illegal benefits on the grounds he was unemployed.

Lead magistrate Beverley Charman passed jurisdiction on sentencing to the crown court as she said her powers were not sufficient.

Rothwell will next appear at Maidstone Crown Court for a pre-sentencing hearing on Monday, February 29.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of falsely claiming Job Seeker's Allowance and four counts of falsely claiming housing and council tax.

He also pleaded guilty to a final charge of falsely claiming pension credit from the Department for Work and Pensions.


The frauds ran for years.

2 Feb 2016

£38k benefit thief avoids jail

A Scunthorpe woman who fraudulently claimed more than £38,000 in benefits over a six-year period has been spared jail by the "skin of her teeth", a court heard.

Anna Brindley dishonestly claimed £38,446.01 in jobseeker's allowance, council tax and housing benefit between 2007 and 2012, barring a six-month spell in the Middle East.

The 36-year-old also failed to declare that her partner, who was in full-time work and owned their property, was living with her and was also the father of one of her children.

Defence barrister Pam Coxon said the defendant had been in receipt of housing benefit from 2000, but the fraudulent claims did not begin until 2007. "To some extent she buried her head, which seems to be a theme in this exercise," she said. "But this is a woman who feels ashamed to be in this position and will never trouble the courts again."

She has already paid back more than £29,000, but still has around £8,000 outstanding.

She pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity and has no previous convictions.

Her first opportunity was to own up rather than wait to be caught.

Presiding over the case at Grimsby Crown Court, Judge Jeremy Richardson QC described her actions as "prolonged dishonesty". "It doesn't really matter what the lie is, a lie is a lie," he said. "She has told a pack of lies, full stop. This is not a massive mistake, this is flagrant dishonesty."

The judge opted not to jail the mother-of-two.

He said: "You deserve to go to prison. It is shameful that you stand here when you have two children. It is very tempting to send you to jail and I am equally mindful to give you a taste of just how awful a women's prison is. But purely as an act of mercy, and because your children will disproportionately suffer if you were to be jailed, I am prepared to suspend your sentence."

Brindley was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years. She will also be required to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work over the next 12 months.

"I am confident you will not reappear," the judge added. "But you are very lucky, very lucky indeed. You have escaped by the skin of your teeth."


25 Jan 2016

Jail for a wrong un eventually detected

A man who falsely claimed to be an unemployed single parent has been jailed for tax and benefit fraud worth more than £72,000.

Andrew Cooper, 48, from Beddau was working as a self-employed signage erector and living with his partner, who was also in full-time work.

Between April 2008 and April 2013 Cooper failed to pay income tax and National Insurance contributions on his earnings.

On eight occasions, between January 2012 and April 2013, he deliberately charged customers more money by raising invoices and charging VAT while pocketing the cash himself.

Cooper earned £126,026.29 during this time and the total value of his tax fraud came to £29,387.10.

A joint investigation carried out by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) found Cooper had fraudulently claimed income support, Jobseeker’s Allowance and council tax benefits totaling £43,369.14 over a period of 12 years.

The combined amount came to a total of £72,756.24 and he pleaded guilty to tax and benefit fraud.

Donna Scrivens, DWP fraud manager for south west Wales, said: “While Cooper claimed he was only helping a friend and living alone our investigations uncovered that he was in fact working as well as living with his partner who was also in full-time work. This prosecution is an excellent example of cross-government working resulting in an overpayment of £72,000 being identified which will now need to be repaid by Cooper. He has also received a 15-month sentence as well as a criminal record.”

Colin Spinks, assistant director of the fraud investigation service at HMRC, added: “Cooper exploited both the benefits and the tax system over a long period of time which is not fair to the majority of hard-working tax payers and those who are legitimately deserving of benefits. This prosecution sends a strong message that, along with our partners in DWP, we will bring those who steal from the UK economy and the British taxpayer to justice.”

Cooper admitted failing to pay more than £29,000 in income tax, VAT and National Insurance contributions as well as fraudulently claiming more than £43,000 in benefits when he appeared before Pontypridd Magistrates’ Court.

On Tuesday he appeared at Cardiff Crown Court and was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Confiscation proceedings to recover the proceeds of his crime will follow.


22 Jan 2016

Benefit cheat told to pay £277k

A Birmingham benefits cheat hit with a mammoth £277,000 bill has failed to get a discount after losing a court challenge. (h/t Dave)

Kulvinder Singh, 55, from Handsworth, raked in more than £32,000 in jobseekers payments between 2001 and 2008 – despite secretly having almost a quarter of million pounds in the bank.

The fraudster’s covert cash came to light in September 2009 when his finances were investigated as part of a case at Birmingham Crown Court.

Singh pleaded guilty to three counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances, and was handed a suspended sentence.

But now he has lost a challenge at London’s Criminal Appeal Court to appeal against a confiscation order for £277,000, handed to him in 2010.

At the hearing he asked Mr Justice Foskett and Judge Jeremy Carey to reduce his crushing bill.

Investigations into his finances revealed another £241,000 – on top of the dishonestly claimed benefits – which a judge ruled he could not account for honestly. He had put in no tax returns to explain the £241,000 and the crown court judge had deemed it the proceeds of “criminal conduct”.

His lawyers argued that after paying back every penny of the £32,000, the confiscation order of more than seven times the amount was ‘simply wrong’.

They added that at least £140,000 of the money came from the legitimate sale of a £280,000 house.

It was also argued that Singh had lost the money from the house sale after falling victim to an “identity fraud”.

But Judge Carey ruled that Singh had left it too late to challenge the bill.

“There is no reason why time should be extended,” he said. “The application is refused.”

Singh has already served a term of imprisonment in default of payment of the confiscation order – but could face more time behind bars if he still fails to pay up.


20 Jan 2016

Now Tower Hamlets announces keys amnesty

Illegally sublet social rented properties have been seized after two cases of tenancy fraud in London’s East End were taken to court.

The seizures by Poplar Harca social landlords on two housing estates were revealed on the eve of Tower Hamlets council declaring a “housing amnesty” for any tenants illegally subletting.

Don't rush now.

Tower Hamlets has London’s longest housing waiting list, with almost 20,000 families in the queue for a home.

One property being sublet on Poplar’s Leopold Estate was brought to light by a tip-off from a neighbour which led to a possession order granted by Bow County Court. A second property which had been left empty with an absent tenant for three years was recovered from nearby Lansbury North Estate.

Don't rush now.

Eight properties have now been seized by Poplar Harca since April and five fraudulent Right to Buy claims have been stopped.

“We operate a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to housing fraud,” Poplar Harca’s counter-fraud investigator Avril Drummond said. “Every repossession means another family on the waiting list can be housed.”

Tower Hamlets Council, meanwhile, launched its amnesty with its own housing organisation and other local housing associations, hoping to recover illegally sublet properties and stamp out fraud estimated at £13 million a year.

A two-bedroom property the council has already retrieved in Bethnal Green has been given to a young mum on the waiting list, Amy Sictorness, 22, who has made 200 applications for a home since 2012. She now has a home for her five-month-old baby Lucia.

Amy said: “It’s shocking that people use social housing to make money. It means people like me wait longer than we should for a home.”

The local authority has pledged to “honour the amnesty”—but also warned it would use its powers to stamp out tenancy fraud.

Mayor John Biggs said: “It is wrong for people to make a ‘quick buck’ at the expense of those who desperately need a home. Our priority is to get illegally sublet social housing back, for the people on our housing list and to protect the public purse.”

The amnesty runs until March 6 for those illegally subletting to hand back the keys to the council or housing association without consequence.

Tenancy fraud is a criminal offence, the council warns, with prosecution that can lead to £5,000 fines or even a prison sentence.


19 Jan 2016

Active doctor lied about disability

A doctor who dishonestly claimed benefits because she was in pain when she walked just one step took part in a six-mile Army march and was photographed being winched out of a RAF helicopter.

Sandra Turnbull received disability benefit despite the fact she was volunteering as an Army medic and being passed fit for combat duties.

A court heard that as well as trying to do a six-mile hike while carrying a 15 kilo rugsack and rifle, the 44-year-old also had a history of scuba diving and cycling.

But despite her physical feats, Turnbull, who did have a genuine problem with her hip, claimed Disability Living Allowance for more than a decade, which she was paid in cash or towards a motability car.

Now the doctor, who admitted three benefit fraud charges with an overpayment of £22,279, has been given a community order at Newcastle Crown Court.

Sentencing her, Recorder Richard Wright QC said: “The reality is, you have said you were unable to walk for any time or distance, whereas you were flying about in helicopters with the RAF, passed for being fit for combat duties and in the Territorial Army. These are not offences of oversight or mistake, but plain old-fashioned dishonesty. You are an educated and intelligent woman who has got secure and well-paid employment.”

Recorder Wright accepted Turnbull’s pain levels from her hip fluctuated, that she was a carer and was of good character, but he told her: “You stole money that should have been spent on people who really needed it.”

He added: “If everything I have read about you is right, you have been and continue to be an excellent doctor, an excellent carer and someone who has discharged their responsibilities in their professional life to the highest standard and is very well-regarded. I hope you are judged by other tribunals on those things and not just on this event, which I am sure will be an isolated blip in an otherwise good life dedicated to helping other people.”

The court heard the doctor, who had a hip replacement last year, joined an Army Reserve unit, the 201 Northern Field Hospital, in June 2006, despite claiming DLA. She had claimed to be unable to walk without experiencing severe discomfort and continued making the declarations in renewal forms in 2008, 2010 and 2013.

Following her enrolment with the field hospital, she went on a three-day placement with the RAF and was taken aboard a Sea King helicopter as a “trainee casualty” which involved being winched on and off, prosecutor Vince Ward told the court. She was assessed to be employable in full combat duties in any area of the world, the court was told.

In January 2007 Turnbull went on a full day’s training exercise in the wilds of the Coquet Valley in Northumberland, to prepare for a combat test the following weekend involving a two-hour six-mile march with rifle and 15kg rucksack, which she failed.

Mr Ward said she was a qualified doctor who had worked at Newcastle General Hospital, for County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust and at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

She worked 40 hours a week on 12-hour shifts, standing for long periods and walking “considerable distances” around the hospitals, he said.

Department for Work and Pensions investigators carried out surveillance and she was observed walking at a normal pace, and did not appear to be in pain.

Her ex-husband provided a statement saying she was active and “unimpeded by symptoms”, Mr Ward said. The ex-partner, who was with her from 2005 to 2013, described a holiday where she went scuba diving, how they explored Rome on foot and went cycling as a family.

Richard Herrmann, defending, said Turnbull had suffered “significant health problems” due to her hip. But he said she had not disclosed the “full picture” to the DWP.

He added: “Effectively, by this course of conduct, this defendant is going to lose everything she has worked for for 15 years. She is suspended, she will be put before the General Medical Council and one can fairly readily anticipate the outcome from a conviction like this, although it is not certain.”


18 Jan 2016

No redeeming features

A cheating couple fiddled more than £120,000 in benefits to fund a lavish lifestyle – including a luxury holiday to Las Vegas.

Phillip Jones, 41, was jailed for using a series of bogus names to abuse the benefits system with girlfriend Sharon James, 38.

Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard how Jones bought properties and splashed out on holidays including a trip to Las Vegas to watch a boxing match – paid for by him fiddling benefits for housing, council tax and disability.

Jones bought the houses and then claimed for benefits using fake names and details at those addresses.

Prosecutor Lee Reynolds told Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court that that the scam was a “myriad false claims and fictitious documents”. He said: “They engaged in a determined, sophisticated and lucrative series of benefit fraud over a significant period of time.”

Jones, of Merthyr Tydfil, admitted seven counts of benefit fraud and one of conspiracy to defraud amounting to £91,731.50 and was jailed for two years.

The court was told how Jones witnessed tenancy agreements in false names to secure benefit after benefit for year after year.

He made claims for incapacity benefit and housing and council tax benefits under an alias, pretending he was a factory worker who was unable to work.

Jones changed his name to Paul Jones and submitted further benefit claims at a property he owned at Church Street, Troedyrhiw, and later at Pant Cad Ifor cottages, another property he had owned.

He bought another property for £105,000 under the name of Paul Price at Dan y Parc View, Merthyr Tydfil, claiming he was a self employed builder earning £35,000 a year. He was able to put down a £25,000 deposit from savings and two years later in 2006 paid off the £78,000 mortgage in full whilst claiming benefits at another of his addresses under a different name.

By 2008 James and Jones were in a relationship and Mr Reynolds said: “It is accepted that she was recruited into an already accomplished benefit fraud.”

Jones then bought another property at Cardiff Road, Merthyr Tydfil, for cash in the sum of £28,500 and submitted a benefits claim the same day using false documents.

In 2011, authorities carried out surveillance on Jones and mother-of-two James, both of Dan y Parc View, and when their home was raided evidence of their lavish lifestyle emerged.

Judge Daniel Williams said: “This was brazen dishonesty born out of greed rather than need. It funded a lifestyle which others who honestly work and work hard could only dream of. Year after year after year you helped yourselves to public funds expecting tax payers to fund your holidays and property acquisitions.”

James, also of Merthyr Tydfil, admitted conspiracy to defraud £30,515.67 and was handed a six-month suspended sentence.

The judge told her: “You were contemptuous of the benefit system and those who work hard to contribute to funds. The two of you showed a breathtaking dishonesty in your dealings with the benefit system. For year after year you raided scarce public funds.”

Andrew Davies, defending Jones, who had made no attempt to pay back any money, said that he had turned to drink following a difficult upbringing but had showed remorse.

Jeffrey Jones, defending James, who had repaid £322, said: “She has lost a lot of the esteem and character that she had enjoyed. She was not the brains behind this.”

The couple will face a Proceeds of Crime hearing to determine how much of the money will be paid back.


Personality and welfare dependency?

Over the past five years, [Perkins] has accumulated a mass of evidence about the personalities of welfare claimants and concluded that individuals with aggressive, rule-breaking and anti-social tendencies — what he calls the ‘employment–resistant personality profile’ — are over-represented among benefit recipients. He also found that their children are likely to share those traits, which helps explain why poverty has a tendency to be passed down from one generation to the next.
Note that Toby Young doesn't go into anything as vulgar as numbers.