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20 Mar 2019

£1m benefit fraud gang finally sentenced

Seven benefit assessors have now been sentenced to prison for a total of 17 years for their roles in housing benefit fraud which saw more than £1m stolen from three councils in London.

The assessors worked in the local authorities of Lambeth, Kingston, and Barking and Dagenham, creating false housing benefit claims over a period of six years and sending the funds to accounts they controlled.

Lambeth employee Menelik Cowan, one of the driving forces of the fraud, and six others, denied fraud but were convicted by a jury after a three-month trial at Southwark Crown Court.

Cowan was sentenced to six-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. He had diverted £293,147 from his employers over six years. Others received between three-and-a-half years' imprisonment and 18 months.

The gang would identify properties, collect details for false claims and create appointments for the fraudsters at the council.

They also approved false claims and used their systems to ensure council letters, which might have revealed their fraud, were not sent to the properties.

Money was sent into accounts controlled by money launderers who left the country before they could be charged.

The Crown Prosecution Service worked closely with investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions Serious and Organised Investigation Team to bring the prosecution.

Ben Reid, of the CPS, said: “These council-employed assessors were trusted to look after badly needed public money meant to help people find somewhere to live. Instead they corrupted the systems and sent over one million pounds to money launderers in the criminal underground.

“During their trial they said they had no idea the claims were false and that they were simply processing papers given to them by their managers. However, the CPS prosecution showed the jury messages between them and their co-conspirators planning the whole thing.

“They have now been convicted by the jury and these public funds are safely out of their hands.”

A timetable for proceeds of crime hearings will now be set out where the CPS will seek to recover any outstanding assets.

It's all so slow.

Menelik Cowan pleaded guilty to one offence of fraud by abuse of positon and one offence of possession of false identity documents with intent. He was then convicted of five further offences of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending is £293,147. He was imprisoned for six-and-a-half years.

Hugh Small pleaded guilty to one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement. He was then convicted of one further offence of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending is £112,983. He was imprisoned for three-and-a-half years.

Rahel Asfaha was convicted after trial of eight offences of fraud by abuse of position, worth £181,872. Imprisoned for two-and-a-half years.

Alex Williams was convicted after trial of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £240,345. Imprisoned for three-and-a-half years.

Cassandra Johnson was convicted after trial of three offences of fraud by abuse of position worth £106,834. Imprisoned for 18 months.

Jessica Bartley was convicted after trial of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £71,600. Imprisoned for 18 months, suspended for 18 months, and given 200 hours unpaid work.

Natasha Francis was convicted after trial of one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £2,868. 18-month community order, and 200 hours unpaid work.

Donna Francis was convicted after trial of one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £8,323.43. 12-month community order.

Derrick Williams was convicted after trial of two offences of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £14,168.03. Imprisoned for 15 months, suspended for 18 months.

Source

19 Mar 2019

2014 benefit fraud comes to court

A woman suffering from poor health claimed more than £10,000 she was not entitled to when her condition improved.

Sami Farooq's claim for Disability Living Allowance was legitimate from the outset.

But when the 50-year-old's health improved and she gained employment working with a firm of woollen spinners she failed to tell anyone.

She pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions a change of circumstances affecting her entitlement to a benefit.

Farooq, from Crosland Moor, committed the offence between January and October, 2014.

Alex Bozman, prosecuting, said that she became well enough to take up employment with the company for a period of nine months during that year.

He told Kirklees magistrates : “As a consequence she obtained benefits to the value of £10,532 which she was not entitled to. The prosecution accepts that she was originally entitled to the benefits. But when she obtained work with the woollen spinners she accepts she should have notified the appropriate departments of this work. She said that she didn't think it was dishonest.”

Magistrates were told that Farooq has been out of trouble for almost a decade. The last offences on her record were shoplifting matters dating back 10 years.

The Huddersfield court heard that the overpaid cash is now being repaid to the DWP.

Andrew Stewardson, mitigating, said: “It's not a claim which was fraudulent from the outset – she has had some health troubles. She is now on benefits and not currently working.”

Magistrates described the offence as 'serious' and sentenced Farooq to an 18 week curfew. This will run between the hours of 7pm and 7am and be electronically monitored.

She must pay £85 court costs and £85 victim surcharge.

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18 Mar 2019

Benefit cheat did not declare savings

A Derby woman who claimed thousands of pounds worth of housing benefit despite having huge savings now has an anxious wait to find out her fate.

Marcia Oliver pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud when she appeared at Southern Derbyshire Magistrates Court.

Magistrates heard how the 47-year-old claimed more than £11,500 in housing benefit from Derby City Council between June 9, 2016 and June 4, 2018.

Oliver also claimed almost £8,000 in additional DWP benefits between March 14, 2016, and April 12, 2018. She was receiving jobseeker’s allowance.

The court heard how she had been claiming all the cash while she had savings of more than £16,000, higher than the permitted limit in bank accounts, which she failed to declare.

Now Oliver must wait to find out how she will be punished as magistrates adjourned the case for a pre-sentence report to be drafted.

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14 Mar 2019

Benefit fraud mother jailed

A mother has been jailed for a £34,000 benefit fraud – as a sheriff blasted her husband for his part in landing her in the dock.

Emma Tanner was locked up for a year after she admitted defrauding £34,111 in a “deliberate” scam.

But a sheriff blasted her husband Christopher – saying he was “to some extent responsible” for landing her in the dock.

Tanner broke down in the dock as she was handcuffed and led to the cells.

Dundee Sheriff Court heard she was living with her husband – but hid that from benefit bosses, claiming she was a single mum.

But in reality she was living “on-off” with husband Christopher, allowing her to rake in income support, child tax credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit.

Tanner, 31, from Broughty Ferry, Dundee, pleaded guilty on indictment to two charges under the Social Security Adminstration Act and one under the Tax Credits Act.

Defence solicitor David Duncan said: “There aren’t any other aggravating factors that the court often sees. She has no prior offending. She would have been entitled to some form of benefit at the time. There is no lavish lifestyle and the finances are still strained for the family.

“Your lordship can step away from custody to the maximum available community sentence.”

Sheriff Tom Hughes jailed Tanner for a year.

He said: “There are factors on each side I have to take into account. This happened over a considerable period of time. It also appears to be the case that during that time you were having an on-off relationship with your husband

“It is quite clearly a case he has left you in this position. He is actually to some extent responsible for getting you in to the situation you find yourself in. He can take no pride in his behaviour. Unfortunately you are left to carry the consequences.”

However, he added: “You made a deliberate calculation in taking the benefit when you well knew you were not entitled to it. The sum involved was over £34,000 of public funds to which you were not entitled.”

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13 Mar 2019

Housing benefit fraudster's salary was over £36k

A fraudster who cheated the housing benefit system out of £13,000 has been given a suspended sentence.

Doreen Dankyi, from Bushey, received an overpayment of £13,000 between August 2014 and August 2016 - after she failed to tell her council about her change in circumstances.

She was on a salary of nearly £37,000 a year.

Dankyi was also receiving an income support of just over £7,000.

At St Albans Crown Court on March 4, Dankyi pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to promptly tell Hertsmere Borough Council of a change of circumstances which would affect her housing benefit entitlement, as well as tell the department for work and pensions of changes that would affect her right to receive income support.

The 46-year-old pleaded not guilty to both charges but was found guilty by the jury.

She was given a 26-week custodial sentence, suspended for 18 months.

She has also been given a curfew meaning she has to be at home between 9pm and 6am each night for the next three months.

Councillor John Graham, responsible for finance and property at the council, said: "This case sends out a clear message that discrepancies over benefits claims will be picked up by investigators and any suspected offenders will be prosecuted.

“Housing benefits and income support provide help to those in the most need. Claimants are responsible for making sure that they promptly notify the relevant authorities when their circumstances change."

Source

8 Mar 2019

Woman said she was single, got £36.5k in benefit fraud

A mum-of-five who wrongly claimed more than £36,500 in benefits has been made a prisoner in her own home at night under a court curfew.

Julie Keightley, 37, admitted seven charges of fraud - claiming five types of benefits over almost four years.

"In total she fraudulently claimed £36,579.39," prosecutor Paul Abrahams told Teesside Crown Court.

She claimed jobseeker's allowance, employment support allowance, income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit between February 2013 and June 2017.

Systematic. She knew what she was about.

The Tesco worker claimed she was single and had broken up with her husband, to whom she had been married since 2002.

"She said they'd separated in 2012 and he had lived in a camper van at his mum and dad's," said Mr Abrahams. "In fact they'd never split apart formally. The Crown cannot say whether there'd been some turmoil in the relationship.

"What we can say is there had been no break in continuity in the family finances, so from start to finish she wouldn't have been entitled to the amount. As to what she would have been entitled to, we can't say. The calculation hasn't been done."

The £36,579 overpayment included £25,050 in housing benefit, the court was told.

Keightley, from Roseworth, Stockton , admitted seven counts of fraud by failing to disclose to the Department for Work and Pensions and Stockton Council that she was living with her husband to gain benefits.

Jennifer Coxon, defending, said Keightley had no previous convictions, was "petrified" of the court case outcome, distressed at what she did and just wanted to pay the money back.

Ms Coxon said: "She holds her hands up whole-heartedly and accepts that she's certainly be in the wrong. She appreciates the jeopardy that she's put her liberty at, and essentially her family who rely upon her as a mother. That is something that really upsets her. She's extremely remorseful for that. There would be no suggestion of a lavish lifestyle."

She said Keightley and her husband had periods of separation, but there "wasn't a clear definition" in their financial situation and he helped her out with money.

Keightley stopped claiming benefits when she and her husband permanently reconciled, "and she told the DWP that".

"Her husband has a very good job. At the minute she's not entitled to anything," added Ms Coxon. They reside together now as a couple and he's essentially helping her to pay back that money."

She said Keightley and her husband had five children together, aged three to 18, and her mother also needed help.

Keightley had difficulties like anxiety, depression and possible sight loss and her husband had his own ailments, added Ms Coxon.

Judge Sean Morris told Keightley: "You pilfered about £36,000 of taxpayers' money that should have gone to people who were more needy than you. And it's a shameful thing to do.

"They will get their money back. For the rest of your adult life, working life, they will be taking that money off you bit by bit."

Referring to Keightley's children, he said: "That's not an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card.

"I can quite easily send you down the stairs now and your three-year-old can be running around the house asking where mum is, and that'll be your fault.

"I'm going to incarcerate you in your own house, so you can carry on working, and so that the state doesn't have to pick up the bill for looking after your children."

Keightley was given a 10-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months with a six-month tagged curfew.

Source

7 Mar 2019

Fitbit tripped up benefit fraud

A benefits cheat who dishonestly claimed around £7,000 in disability and housing payments was caught out after clocking up 10,000 steps on a a Fitbit. (h/t Dave)

Helen May admitted she dishonestly failed to tell authorities she had a job while claiming thousands of pounds in housing benefit in 2016.

Appearing in the dock at South Cumbria Magistrates Court, the 39-year-old also admitted failing to disclose an improvement in her physical capacities, between 2014 and 2017, which would have directly affected her disability allowance.

The court was told May, from Ulverston, failed to notify South Lakeland District Council she had got a job while she was claiming housing benefit as well as failing to tell the Department for Work and Pensions her physical condition had improved.

The court heard May was unable to work because of depression and a heart problem she had suffered from since the age of 10, which gave her palpitations and meant she tired easily and had a pacemaker.
 
Magistrates heard while she had been claiming benefits she had worked three jobs: at the Lakes Aquarium at Lakeside, the Yewdale Inn at Coniston and at Weightwatchers. Defending her, Tristan Roberts said the cafe work she did was only serving and tea coffee, was not physically exerting and was only carried out by her for a few hours a day.

Peter Barnsley, prosecuting, told the court that a witness had seen May log 10,000 steps on her Fitbit fitness tracker during a day at work.

Magistrates were told May had already paid back some of the benefits she had illegally claimed. Mr Roberts said: “She is a lady who has not troubled authorities before and is not likely to trouble them again.”

In sentencing, magistrates ruled out unpaid work after being told May would have been too ill to do it.

They imposed a community order with the requirement that May will wear an electronic tag under a 10-week curfew stopping from leaving her home between 7pm and 7am. She was also ordered to pay £400 in court costs.

Source

6 Mar 2019

Another community conspiring on benefit fraud

After Rotherham, now Sheffield.

A large proportion of families within Sheffield’s Roma community are being exploited to lie about their children being ill to get higher benefit payments, says the council.

Sheffield Council is working with the Department of Work and Pensioners (DWP) and GPs to increase awareness of “fabricated illnesses”.

Council chiefs say gangs are encouraging parents to not only commit fraud but also exploit children.

A council report says:
There is work with partners to ensure an appropriate response to the exploitation of Roma families. It has been noted that there is a large proportion of families within the Roma community who are being exploited to fabricate illnesses within their children to obtain higher benefit payments. This has resulted in greater links with the DWP and the safeguarding GP, who has increased awareness of the health policy around fabricated illness. This allows partners to refer to the GP under the protocol to ensure a more appropriate response to the issue to try to reduce instances of fabricated illness in children within the Roma community.
Coun Jim Steinke, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and community safety, said it was unclear how widespread the problem was.
We are concerned about gangs working with parents to encourage them to defraud the DWP and our officers are really clamping down on this illegal activity. The fraud is bad enough but there is also serious exploitation of children. There seems to be a variety of illnesses and we are working with schools as we rely on their judgement when parents tell them their child is ill.
The council’s Multi Agency Support Teams (MAST) struggled to work with Roma families because of the fraud.

The report adds:
MAST have been engaging with partners to address this as many of the referrals into the service were as a result of this issue, which prevented effective work on other issues that the families were facing. 
The DWP said it did not comment on ongoing fraud operations but says it works closely with local authorities as a matter of course to tackle benefit fraud in all its forms.

Source

I wonder how much this organised benefit fraud is costing us...?

4 Mar 2019

Community action on benefit fraud!

Police, council and government officials teamed up to smash a suspected criminal ring responsible for illegally claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits.

“A local tight-knit community” across four neighbouring streets in Holmes were found to be claiming an “extremely high” number of benefits.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would not reveal how many suspects had been investigated or arrested but police said at least 20 of those identified had led to spin-off investigations for other offences, including several relating to drugs found in their homes.

A total of £250,000 was said to have been recovered by the multi-agency Operation Holmes.

The homes implicated in the alleged scam include “numerous” empty houses for which housing benefits were being claimed and paid out, as well as houses with multiple occupancy and cases of false identity.

It's easy, isn't it. There are far too many claims for each one to be subject to even cursory checks.

A DWP spokeswoman said personal independence payment, carer’s allowance and housing benefits were all found to have been claimed fraudulently.

Details of the operation — which was carried out last October by South Yorkshire Police, the DWP and Rotherham Borough Council officers — have only emerged after the police announced they had won the Partners Award at the Government Fraud Awards 2019, which recognises the work being done to protect public funds in the UK.

It's always been likely that a blitz of local investigations would turn up more benefit fraud than had been suspected - a result that national government would find politically inconvenient.

A police spokeswoman said:
A local tight-knit community were sharing knowledge in order to submit successful, but false benefits claims. The teams were able to gather and develop intelligence, seize evidence and take joint partnership action. Over 20 of the cases identified have also led to investigations with intelligence gathering, border control checks and decision making under way.
The DWP spokeswoman said:
Benefit fraud is a crime that diverts money from those who really need it and we are determined to catch the small minority who cheat the system. We worked closely with Rotherham Borough Council and South Yorkshire Police to target the fraudulent claims, saving the taxpayer over £250,000.
It's unclear what this £250,000 figure means. £250,000 a year? That's a considerable leakage of money just from one small area.

She added that investigations were ongoing and could not give any further details on exactly how many people were thought to be involved with the fraud claims and what further action was being taken.

If you suspect somebody is committing benefit fraud, please visit the Direct Gov website: https://www.gov.uk/report-benefit-fraud or call the National Benefit Fraud Hotline: 0800 854 440.

Source

27 Feb 2019

"Disabled" benefit cheat showed dogs at Crufts

A dog trainer who claimed she could hardly walk was caught out after she was photographed taking part in the country’s top show.

Cheating Linda Avery, aged 57, was pictured at Crufts exhibiting a collie while pocketing the highest rate of disability benefit, a court heard.

Investigators tailed Avery to a Devon show where they filmed her lifting and preparing dogs for the ring.

She was paid more than £12,000 to which she was not entitled over nearly two years, Plymouth Crown Court heard.

Judge Paul Darlow commented: “Her condition has improved enough to be seen running dogs around rings at Crufts. It is one hell of a recovery.”

Avery, who does walk with a stick, pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to notify an improvement in her condition affecting her claim for Disability Living Allowance between October 2014 and July 2016.

The court heard that she started receiving the higher rate for DLA in late 2014.

Plymouth Live understands that she posted a picture on Facebook of her showing a dog at Crufts. Investigators then filmed her exhibiting at Paignton Dog Show.

Ali Rafati, for Avery, said she was still receiving benefits. He said: “She failed to notify improvements in her health and that resulted her receiving the higher rate benefit to which she would not have been entitled.”

Sally Daulton, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said that the authorities would be launching legal action to claw back the money through the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Avery, from Efford, was driven away in an expensive-looking VW Transporter Van.

Judge Darlow ordered a probation report and released Avery on bail until March 8.