17 Sep 2014

Watford man dispossessed for illegal sub-letting

A law introduced to Parliament by Richard Harrington, MP for Watford, has been used to penalise a man who attempted to illegally sublet a Watford Community Housing Trust property.

Edward Cawdron has been ordered to pay almost £11,000 after a District Judge found he had unlawfully profited from tenancy fraud in Raphael Drive.

Cawdron was not living at the house and was advertising it in an attempt to sublet the property, despite owing the trust more than £3,000 in rent arrears. He had taken several deposits.

The trust brought the prosecution after seeing the property advertised for rent.

The District Judge ordered Cawdron to give up possession of the property and pay the trust £10,716.54, including damages of £4,700 - the amount he was found to have collected in deposits from interested parties.

The damages award was made under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013, which makes tenancy fraud a criminal rather than a civil offence.

It is thought to be the first time the act has been used in Watford to recover illegal profits from tenancy fraud.

Tina Barnard, chief executive of Watford Community Housing Trust, said:
It’s disappointing to see someone trying to play the system in this way, but the positive thing to come out of this case is that it sends a powerful message that we are tracking down tenancy cheats. We are also delighted that we were successful in getting possession of this two-bedroom house, which will now be offered to a family in housing need in Watford.
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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.

16 Sep 2014

Haider Abbas claimed nearly £50k in benefit fraud

A Northolt man who claimed benefits while working as a driving instructor was given a suspended sentence after fraudulently claiming almost £50,000 over three and a half years. (h/t Dave)

Haider Abbas, 32, was investigated by Ealing Council after an anonymous tip-off revealed he was working as an instructor at London Elite Driving School and had been falsely claiming housing and council tax benefit since March 2010.

Abbas had taken almost 200 candidates for practical driving tests since 2009 while he claimed to be working only 16 hours a week as a secretary on the minimum wage.

He was sentenced at Harrow Crown Court after admitting two offences of dishonestly making a false representation and one charge of dishonestly failing to notify of a change in circumstances.

Abbas was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs of £3,651.64. He was also put under a curfew for six months and will have to do 150 hours of unpaid work.

He claimed £44,129.40 housing benefit, £4,104.94 council tax benefit and £456.49 council tax support, which he will have to pay back to Ealing Council.

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This was the result of a tip off. Otherwise, who knows how many more years this easy fraud would have lasted.

15 Sep 2014

Tip-off revealed £135k 5-year benefit frauds

A reader writes, "always start 'legitimate', then miracle cure. Of course, if they had not started working, this would probably never come to light".

A couple who claimed they were too ill to cook their own meals were actually running a café, while illegally pocketing £135,000 in benefits.

Caroline Banks and Karl Bradsell were jailed after deceitfully claiming cash from the state for five years, before a sting by council bosses and the DWP saw them brought to justice.

After a tip-off, an investigation was launched, with CCTV and secret footage proving their lies.

Banks, of Hills Court, Bury, was jailed for 16 months and Bradsell, of Chaffinch Drive, Bury, for 19 months at Bolton Crown Court. They pleaded guilty to 24 fraud charges at an earlier hearing.

The pair, who are no longer together, worked at Riscatti’s Café on Bury Market, despite claiming their illnesses were so bad that they couldn’t cook for themselves, and that one of them couldn’t even walk.

Peter Cadwallader, prosecuting, told the court Banks, 42, said she was unable to walk unaided, needed a wheelchair and had to get help to go to the toilet. She claimed to have a long list of illnesses, including a slipped disc in her back, angina and depression. Her home had been adapted with a stairlift and a wet room while she was claiming Disability Living Allowance, Employment Support and Housing Benefit, among others. She also had a mobility car so friends and family could drive her around. But Banks, who sobbed throughout the hearing, was filmed working long days on her feet, lifting tables and chairs and serving customers at the café. On one occasion, she was even spotted wearing high heels.

Defending Banks, Stuart Duke said her initial benefit claims had been legitimate, but that the situation spiralled into ‘dishonesty and deceit’. She was overpaid £62,000 and will pay back the cash from her benefits. Mr Duke said: “Ironically, since these offences came to light, both her physical and mental health have deteriorated. She has fallen into abject poverty and is unable to walk.”

But as the picture shows, she can still smoke standing up.

Bradsell, also 42, said he rented the council house next door to Banks and was single. In truth, he lived with Banks in her adapted home while he sub-let his house to his brother. He claimed to suffer from epilepsy and depression and said he hadn’t worked since 2005, when questioned in 2012. He said his condition was so bad that he had fits every couple of days and suffered panic attacks, often wetting himself. He said he couldn’t drive because of his epilepsy and that he used a microwave because he was afraid of using the cooker. But he was filmed driving Banks’ mobility car to and from the cafe, where he cooked and cleaned. He even used the vehicle to deliver food for a local Chinese takeaway at night.

Defending Bradsell, Michael Lea said he accepted he had exaggerated to claim benefits. He now has a job helping older people and is paying back around £140 a week out of his wages to refund the £73,000 he fraudulently claimed.

Sentencing, Judge Elliot Knopf said the pair’s crimes were a ‘slap in the face to the taxpayer’ and those ‘genuinely and honestly entitled to benefits’:
You put your heads together and agreed to consciously, deliberately and persistently defraud the system. You painted a completely and utterly false picture of your conditions - you knew the buttons to press.
After the hearing, Coun Sandra Walmsley, Bury council’s cabinet member for resource and regulation, said: “This was a deliberate and breathtaking act of fraud, carried out over a long time and involving huge sums of money. Thanks to the determined efforts of our investigators, Bradsell and Banks have finally been brought to justice.”

Coun Sandra Walmsley probably lies. It seems they had no idea about the deception until they were tipped off.

How many more benefit frauds is Coun Sandra Walmsley unaware of?

12 Sep 2014

Council obtains compensation order

Rashpal Kaur was convicted in May 2012 of 22 offences in relation to dishonestly claiming housing benefit, council tax benefit and carers allowance. (h/t Dave)

The offences also included money laundering and a perverting the course of justice charge, and the former benefits office worker was sentenced to 32 months in prison following an investigation by Sandwell Council's counter fraud unit.

Amongst other things the money was used to fund her daughter’s education at a private school.

Following Kaur’s conviction, a financial investigator in Sandwell Council's trading standards team carried out a thorough investigation into her finances to obtain a confiscation order.

It was found that in addition to the £35,000 in benefits that she fraudulently obtained, Kaur had failed to account for money passing through her accounts amounting to £190,000.

During a hearing at Wolverhampton Crown Court on September 2, Judge Michael Dudley agreed with the evidence and ordered that the full amount be paid to Sandwell Council.

Kaur was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of in excess of £80,000.

Councillor Steve Eling, deputy leader and finance boss at Sandwell Council, said: "We have always prosecuted the most serious cases of benefit fraud. Now we also have the option to take confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act where an individual is found to have assets. This legislation can force them to sell these assets in order to satisfy the overpayment."

In addition to fraud prosecutions, the council has used the legislation to secure orders in relation to trading standards prosecutions and breaches of planning regulations.

Where defendants are sent to prison for not paying the confiscation order in accordance with the timescales set by the court, they are still liable to pay the amount on their release from prison.

Councillor Paul Moore, in charge of trading standards, said: "The Proceeds of Crime Act is an opportunity for councils to be at the forefront of protecting local communities by showing that crime does not pay. We have two officers who are accredited to investigate and take Proceeds of Crime confiscation proceedings against criminals who have profited from crime, and we will not hesitate to use these powers in appropriate situations."

11 Sep 2014

Dundee reports low benefit fraud figures

More than 60 people have been investigated by the Dundee City Council benefit counter-fraud unit this year.

New figures show that of the 61 individuals probed since April, 14 have had their council benefits reduced or completely terminated.

In total, £57,602 of housing and council tax benefits were assessed to have been overpaid to residents by the council. When including Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) overpayments and tax credits, the total figure of money handed out fraudulently rose to £109,785.

But that was still down on the total of £146,603 for the same time last year.

A report by the council’s director of corporate services, Marjory Stewart, said: “The level of benefit overpayments identified as a result of counter-fraud activity has decreased compared to the previous year. This can be attributed mainly to two factors — the Council Tax Benefit scheme being abolished in the previous year and the local joint counter-fraud initiative with the DWP. Overpayment results from this pilot should be realised throughout the financial year.”

The drop was despite the fact there is one less full-time fraud investigator employed, meaning there are just three in the city now.

And although there have been 61 investigations launched, the fraud squad have received a whopping 307 social security benefit referrals this year — just five down on the last financial term.

There has also been a new section of the benefit counter-fraud unit set up this year which launches “Corporate Fraud Investigations”.

In its first months, it has begun to crack down on different elements of “high-risk” fraud areas that include the council tax reduction scheme, council tax discounts and exemptions, housing tenancy and blue badge, that had previously not been assessed.

Despite the fact this element of the scheme is new, the report boasts that the unit has already prosecuted a blue badge offender in Dundee.

In total, there have been 20 such investigations launched since the new scheme was launched, four of which have been “successful” which has led to financial savings of £4,363.

The report added: “The benefit counter-fraud unit has widened its scope of investigative work in accordance with the council’s corporate fraud and corruption policy. This has resulted in counter-fraud officers beginning to investigate identified high-risk fraud areas across the council. Whilst work is very much in its infancy, the unit has already successfully prosecuted a blue badge offender in Dundee.”

10 Sep 2014

Benefits thief built up £1m property empire

A benefits cheat who built up a £1million property empire while claiming to be too ill to work has been jailed.

Dean Ahmed, 49, had a secret luxury property empire while posing as a single, disabled man who deserved state handouts. While receiving the benefits - income support and disability living allowance - he banked more than £100,000 while also collecting rent from at least ten houses across Europe. A court heard Ahmed had three houses in Spain and seven in Wales which he rented out.

He was jailed for two years and eight months after the court heard he was also paid disability living allowance for being too ill to get a job.

All the while the illicit property entrepreneur had lived in a plush apartment in Cardiff Bay - and bought another six in the same waterfront area.

Cardiff Crown Court heard he used a false identity to obtain mortgages and had built up a hidden property portfolio worth close to £1million.

Ahmed was jailed after admitting 15 charges: four counts of money laundering, three of mortgage fraud and eight of benefit and council tax fraud.

Forensic investigation of his finances found he was 'actively profiting as a property landlord, and had pocketed substantial rental income from his portfolio.'

He he had three luxurious apartments in Murcia, Spain, and regularly transferred large amounts of money to banks in the country.

The financial investigation also uncovered the sale and purchase of properties, many within the Cardiff Bay area, sourced by false mortgage applications.

Chief Inspector Gary Phillips said Ahmed now faced losing his properties after 'amassing a considerable amount of wealth by illegal means. Our focus now shifts to taking away the wealth and assets he has amassed under Proceeds of Crime legislation'.

More - mainly fatuous warnings that you'll always get caught.

£232k "was easy money" for benefit fraudster

A benefits cheat has been jailed for stealing two dead friends' identities in a 17-year 'campaign of deception' which netted him £232,000.

Paul Burnett, 45, set up alter egos as 'tenants' in a string of houses he had bought - then claimed incapacity, housing and council tax benefit, jobseekers' allowance and income support in their names.

His sophisticated swindle, which included posing as one friend who died in a 1988 motorcycle crash and another who drowned in 1996, was only discovered when one of his living victims returned from Australia.

By the time he was caught, Burnett was having to keep 16 diaries to organise his life as a 'full-time fraudster', Bradford Crown Court heard.

When Department of Work and Pensions investigators finally caught up with him, he confessed:
It was easy money. It started off because I was skint but then it turned into a game.
The court heard Burnett claimed benefits using his own name and those of four other men between 1996 and 2013.

The first, Michael Gilmartin, was a friend who had died in a motorcycle crash in Leeds in 1988. Posing under the fake name, Burnett bought a house in Halifax, West Yorkshire, and took on a tenant by the name of Ian Wright. But 'Ian Wright' was actually Burnett under a second fake name - and he claimed £61,174 in incapacity benefit, housing benefit of £35,629 and council tax benefit of £6,487 from Calderdale Council.

To claim the incapacity benefit, which has since been phased out by the government, Burnett had to obtain an NHS card for 'Ian Wright' and complain he was unfit to work due to depression. The court heard how 'Ian Wright' - whose real-life double had in fact left Britain to live in Australia - was prescribed Prozac, declared unfit to work and even referred to a counsellor.

Burnett's third identity was Michael Wells, a friend who had drowned in Greece in 1996. He bought a house in Bradford, West Yorkshire, under Mr Wells' name and then pretended he was a tenant to claim a string of benefits. Burnett's claims had a deep effect on his dead friend's sister - who was offered a 'glimmer of hope' that he had not drowned after all, the court heard.

Burnett's fourth identity was Stephen Hackett, who was still alive but had moved to France following a family fight. As Stephen Hackett, Burnett again managed to obtain an NHS Medical Card and even a birth certificate. 'Stephen Hackett' then claimed £11,845 housing benefit, £2,501 council tax benefit, £9,271 jobseekers' allowance, £24,190 incapacity benefit and £16,476 of its successor, the employment and support allowance. He had a bank account with Cheltenham and Gloucester and - as with 'Ian Wright' - was signed off as unfit to work after telling doctors he had depression and suicidal thoughts.

Burnett was only discovered after the real Ian Wright returned home from Australia and found letters demanding money and claiming he had been receiving benefits. He contacted the authorities and police traced Burnett to the home where 'Stephen Hackett' was living in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire. Records showed Burnett - using his real name - had bought the house in cash for £70,000 and 'Stephen Hackett' was supposedly living there as a tenant.

But they found the 16 diaries which exposed the scale of the scam, linking him with the other properties in Halifax and Bradford. They also showed he had links to Keighley and Todmorden in West Yorkshire and Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Burnett pleaded guilty to 20 separate counts of fraud and making false representations. Judge Jonathan Rose told Burnett he had seen the benefits system as 'a portal to riches':
Benefits and the benefits system are to help those in need, those unable to finance their lives without the support and assistance of the state. They are not there, in your own counsel's words, for those who are seduced by greed. You are a greedy man, Paul Burnett. Your case has a deeply unpleasant and deeply hurtful aspect of you stealing the identities of men who have lost their lives.
Stephen Wood, defending, said Burnett has an 18 year old daughter and told police he 'was seduced by greed'. 'He was encouraged by the ease with which these offences could be committed,' Mr Wood said. 'They didn't require special tools or special knowledge'.

And he was only discovered by chance.

8 Sep 2014

Councillor sentenced for benefit fraud

A councillor has received a suspended jail sentence after admitting benefit fraud totalling more than £44,000.

Lesley Hayward, who sits as an independent on Wokingham Borough Council, told the authorities she lived alone when she lived with her partner.

A four-month sentence was suspended for 12 months and she was ordered to pay £3,000 which has not yet been repaid.

Wokingham Borough Council said the case showed "those who break the rules are held to account".

Hayward, 63, of Kingfisher Drive, Woodley, previously admitted two counts of knowingly failing to declare a change in circumstances to the council and the Department for Work and Pensions and one of making a false statement to obtain Pension Credit. The offences dated between 2004 and 2012 and she received a total of £44,593.23 benefit to which she was not entitled.

She represents the Bulmershe and Whitegates ward on the council and also sits on Woodley Town Council.

Julie Holland, service manager business improvement at Wokingham Borough Council, said:
It is regrettable that a councillor, of whom the highest standards of conduct are expected, has behaved in this way.
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4 Sep 2014

How to sentence benefit thieves

A Hale man has been convicted of benefit fraud, reports The Messenger.

Smaih Chaudry, 31, of Briony Avenue, was convicted of dishonestly obtaining housing and council tax benefit, following a trial at Trafford Magistrates Court.

Mr Chaudry had failed to inform Trafford Council that he had received payments and income from his company, I-Tech Direct (Cheshire) Limited.

This resulted in an overpayment of benefits amounting to £1449.84 between December 2012 and February 2013.

On August 28, he was sentenced to carry out 80 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £1,000 towards the cost of the prosecution and a victim surcharge of £60. The council is also recovering all dishonestly-obtained monies from Mr Chaudry.

This sends two messages.

First, Trafford Council will prosecute even for small benefit frauds, with the publicity that brings.

Second, the magistrates' cost order means Mr Chaudry will be liable to pay nearly twice what he stole.

Good. These people do it for the money. Hit them in the pocket.