19 Sep 2017

Benefit fraudster had £80k in the bank

Benefit cheat Diane Cornes claimed nearly £10,000 worth of handouts – despite having tens of thousands of pounds in the bank.

The 62-year-old made a claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) in February 2013 and stated she had £2,550 in the bank, when she had at least £25,000 in her account. And she continued to claim benefits until December 2015 despite, at one stage, having £80,000 in the bank and never having less than £30,000.

Now Cornes, who has no previous convictions, has been handed a community order at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court.

Prosecutor Peter McCartney said the defendant made a claim for ESA in February 2013. He said: “She declared she had £2,550 in the bank. However, from August 2013 she had at least £25,000. From November 2013, she had about £80,000 in the bank. That depleted with time, but was never less than £30,000 up until May 2016. If she had declared she had capital of over £6,000 it would have affected her payments. If she declared she had over £16,000 it would have prevented any benefits at all being paid. In her interview, she admitted failing to notify the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) of capital she had. The claim was fraudulent from the outset.”

The defendant was overpaid £817.31 of ESA between March 6, 2013 and November 4, 2013; £2,142.03 of Job Seeker's Allowance between November 5, 2013 and March 30, 2014; and £6,448.78 of ESA between March 31, 2014 and December 15, 2015. In total, she was overpaid £9,408.12 benefits.

Cornes, from Burslem, pleaded guilty to three offences of dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for herself.

Robert Holt, mitigating, said the defendant suffers from anxiety, depression and panic attacks. He told the court: “She has become mixed up and confused and allowed personal grief to take over her and consume her. It led to her turning a blind eye.”

He added that Cornes will repay all the money.

So she hasn't yet.

Judge David Fletcher sentenced Cornes to a 12-month community order, with a rehabilitation activity requirement for 20 days and an eight-week curfew from 8pm to 6am.

He said: “When you filled these forms in to claim ESA, you knew what money you had in your bank. And let’s be clear about this, you lied. It wasn’t a mistake. It was a deliberate lie and a deliberate illegal statement made by you that was simply not true. I suspect you knew if you told them about the capital you had in the bank, you would not have received those benefits. You have ruined your good name. You are going to have to live with the consequences of criminal convictions recorded against you and the various other things that will flow from that.”


18 Sep 2017

Businessman admits benefit fraud

A businessman and landlord is now a convicted benefit fraudster after he concealed some of his finances and sub-let his property.

Rebecca Ware, prosecuting, said Peter Cullen, 50, claimed council tax relief and a single person council tax discount from September 2013 on the grounds he lived alone and had less than £500 in capital.

But he didn't include details about one of his bank accounts which contained more money that he was allowed to have for the full claim.

He also failed to tell Selby District Council when he started getting income by sub-letting the house where he paid council tax, and when he started running a business with over £120,000 going through his accounts in 18 months between February 2014 and July 2015.

Council officers became suspicious in August 2016 when four adults went on the electoral roll for the property where he was claiming he lived alone, and started investigating.

Cullen told York magistrates that when he made the initial claim, he had been made redundant and his partner had left him. He had since put himself back on his feet.

His caravan park business had been open for business since August and at the time of the court case, he had six lodgers paying £100 a week, plus a 14-stand caravan park where visitors paid £100 a month.

“It was a stupid decision by me,” he said of the benefit fraud. “I got myself into a situation I didn’t know how to get out of and buried my head in the sand”.

Cullen, now of Broad Lane, Cawood, pleaded guilty to four offences of benefit fraud committed between September 2013 and June 27, 2015.

He was ordered to do 200 hours’ unpaid work and pay £1,006 costs to Selby District Council, who prosecuted the case, plus an £85 victim surcharge.

Miss Ware said as a result of his crimes, Cullen received £6,443 in council tax relief and a single person reduction he was not entitled to, and that he has repaid all the money.

15 Sep 2017

Pensioner admits pension credit fraud

A welfare cheat who illegally received £13,204.32 in illegal over-paid benefits has been fined.

Chesterfield magistrates’ court heard how John Stoppard, 71, received pension credit benefit at Mansfield but failed to tell the Department for Work and Pensions he was receiving a second monthly Legal and General pension.

Prosecuting solicitor Sam Matkin said: “He was claiming pension credits which he was not entitled to which led to a £13,204.32 over-payment. He had received pension credit since 2011, for himself and this was on the grounds he only had a state pension and an occupational pension from Legal and General and he was paid by automatic credit to his accounts on the basis he had declared all his income.”

However, Stoppard failed to declare a second occupational, monthly pension from Legal and General from March, 1996, according to Mr Matkin.

Stoppard, from Muskham, Newark, pleaded guilty to making a false statement on or about May 5, 2011, at Mansfield, to obtain benefit by failing to declare the full extent of his pension arrangements to the DWP.

Mr Stoppard said: “I agree with the summary. I am sorry for what I have done and I am willing to pay it back. You do things and I just kept thinking I would never get caught and I got caught.”

The probation service explained that Stoppard worked as a miner for 32 years and has health issues including blood pressure problems, headaches and diabetes.

The court heard Stoppard has taken a job to pay back the benefits owed. Magistrates fined Stoppard £200 and ordered him to pay £85 costs and a £30 victim surcharge.


14 Sep 2017

Judge slams DWP for delays in benefit fraud prosecutions

An important report. The Judge is criticising the DWP's standard performance in prosecuting benefit fraud cases and gaining reimbursement. If they are so lax in the cases they do take to court, how many benefit fraud cases are falling by the wayside? How much money slips through their fingers?

A judge has urged the Department for Work and Pensions to speed up benefit fraud prosecutions, which at the moment often take several years to reach court.

Leicester Crown Court’s most senior judge, Nicholas Dean QC, said long delays were “bringing disrepute to the justice system".

The judge also said the delays made it more difficult to send perpetrators to prison, "even though they may deserve it".

He also urged a “proactive” approach be taken by the authorities in speedily getting the money back from defendants’ assets - before they disappear.

He spoke out when sentencing a benefits cheat, Bharaj Rawji, who dishonestly claimed £24,000 in state hand-outs to which he was not entitled. He failed to declare that he had at least £16,000 savings in his bank account, between September 2011 and August 2014.

The money is being re-paid via deductions of £120 a month from Rawji’s current benefit entitlement.

Judge Dean said the money could take up to 20 years to re-pay under that payment plan, and that Rawji's assets could be seized to enable the state to recoup the money quicker.

The court was told the £16,000 Rawji had had in savings had disappeared.

The judge added that repaying dishonestly-claimed benefits over a period of 20 years would have "very little impact" on defendants, and that he was “constantly astonished" by the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) "lack of enforcement in such cases".

Rawji (57), of Melrose Street, Belgrave, Leicester, admitted seven counts of benefit fraud, relating to dishonest claims for Job Seekers’ Allowance, employment support allowance, housing benefit and income support payments, totalling £24,294. He was given an eight month jail sentence, suspended for two years.

Judge Dean said the defendant was interviewed in April 2015, and the case should have taken no more than six months to reach court. The judge added: “These prosecutions are routinely delayed upwards by two years.”

He warned there could come a time when the courts could be reluctant to proceed with cases involving unreasonably long delays.

Judge Dean added:
I urge the DWP to think about what they want to get out of these cases, and take a more proactive stance when it comes to recouping money. One of the consequences of so much delay (in bringing cases to court) is it’s difficult after so much time to send someone to prison, even though they may deserve it.
Judge Dean said of the defendant: “He (Rawji) should feel a real sense of shame and it should be a real punishment for him - whether or not he does is a different matter.”

He told Rawji: “This sort of rank dishonesty causes a great deal of loss to the state and brings into disrepute people who genuinely claim benefits. You should be held up in your local community as someone who has acted in this profoundly dishonest way. In truth, the punishment would be to pay it back quickly. I don’t believe you have no assets and it might mean confiscation proceedings will result in more being recouped.”

The judge said: “You’ve previously been in trouble for trademark offences, when you were trading dishonestly in items of clothing with designer labels – that typifies you’re a dishonest man. Now you’ve claimed benefits to the tune of £24,000 when you falsely declared you did not have savings when you did.”

Judge Dean also said: “During the period on the indictment he had at least £16,000 in his bank account (which has since gone). One might think their (the DWP) principal concern would be to recoup money that has been lost. The courts have powers and assets can be frozen. I’m constantly astonished by the lack of enforcement in such cases.

People in his (the defendant’s) position typically dispose of assets because they know that getting the money back will take 20 years and will have very little impact upon them and cause them little or no hardship. He must have assets … he’s been working, albeit illegally, selling clothing bearing false labels.”

Rawji will now have to declare any assets he has to the court, pending a possible proceeds of crime hearing to obtain re-payment.

Almas Ben-Aribia, prosecuting, said the defendant committed the offences during a separation from his partner, when he claimed £15,500 and had allowed his partner to claim just under £9,000 benefits – whilst concealing the fact he had savings that rendered them ineligible to claim. His partner is not being prosecuted.

Amar Mehta, mitigating, said the defendant no longer had his former savings and was no longer able to work for medical reasons; a heart problem. He said Rawji was also a carer for his wife, who suffered from ill health.


13 Sep 2017

Priest sentenced for blue badge parking fraud

A priest has been sentenced to 200 hours of community service after he used a dead woman’s disabled badge to park his car.

Father William Haymaker was convicted of fraud after parking his car in a disabled spot in Bexhill in December 2015.

What took so long?

The owner of the badge had died two months before.

He was also ordered to pay £3,700 in costs as well as carry out 12 months of unpaid work.

Mr Haymaker said he had promised a traffic warden to return the badge back to the council as part of registering the woman’s death, but he said he forgot to do so.

He said it was an "honest mistake" as he had seven permits in his glove compartment and was telling the “gospel truth”.

Seven permits?

Judge Christine Henson said: “You used a disabled person’s Blue Badge that did not belong to you to commit fraud. You’ve been convicted of a serious offence and you must be punished for it."

She added that his financial situation appeared "a little murky", and that she could not understand what he was spending his money on.

He told the court, as reported by The Argus, that he used to work for British Airways – but prosecutors and his legal team did not find any evidence to back up his claim.

He also said that he worked as a priest for as many as four funerals per day, provided pastoral care for the terminally ill and poor parishioners, ran errands for them and drove them to hospital appointments, for which he does not receive payment.

He also said he runs a charity called Project New Life which helps poor and neglected children in Moldova and Romania.

Earlier this year the jury unanimously found him guilty of fraud. He came to Hove Crown Court court to receive his sentencing with his official clerical dog The Venerable Mr Piddles.

Mr Haymaker was ordained in 1984 and is a rector of St Paul’s Anglican Parish in Bexhill.


Sandwell counter-fraud team's successes

Sandwell Council’s highly successful counter fraud team has been praised for making huge savings after a series of investigations into benefits, house sales and financial dealings.

The team – which has been shortlisted in the Government’s Counter Fraud Awards scheme, Fraud Team of the Year category – works with a wide range of council departments and partner organisations to seek out possible frauds and other finance-based problems in the borough.

A special counter fraud report highlights its many successes – achieving almost £10 million in actual and notional savings after a range of inquiries in the last 12 months.

Councillor Steve Trow, cabinet member for core council services, said: “This is an excellent report which highlights the many successes of the unit and emphasises that the council is committed to operating a zero tolerance on fraud, corruption and bribery. The work by the counter fraud unit shows that the team thoroughly investigates in a wide variety of areas involving suspected or reported fraudulent activities and has come up with excellent results and huge savings. All matters will be fully investigated and appropriate action will be taken to recover money stolen from the council and deter future instances, whether it be by penalties or, if necessary and in the public interest, by prosecution.”

The team helped the council to save more than £500,000 after investigating incorrect and potentially fraudulent claims for the 25 per cent Single Person Discount on council tax. On top of that, there were 73 cases where people were issued with a penalty charge of £70, leading to £5,110 being collected by the council. Penalties have been introduced by the council to deter incorrect or fraudulent claims, and to encourage people to promptly report changes in circumstances.

Work by the team also led to big savings in housing benefits and council tax reduction, with £78,000 in overpayments being identified.

Their work in social housing fraud led to huge notional savings for the council. The Cabinet Office calculates the cost of social housing tenancy fraud as a notional £93,000 per property. In Sandwell, 73 properties were recovered, which, using the Cabinet Office’s calculation, amounts to a notional £6,789,000 saving.

The team also stopped 67 fraudulent applications, before keys were handed over, achieving an estimated £36,000 notional saving per application, or £2,412,000 in total. This all amounts to a total notional saving of £9.2 million in relation to social housing tenancy fraud.

Investigations continue into the Right to Buy frauds where five applications, worth a total value of £206,000 in discount, were removed as a direct result of the team’s inquiries.


12 Sep 2017

Pensioner jailed for benefit fraud

A Dundee pensioner who carried out a £43,800 benefit fraud has been jailed for a year.

A court heard that James Findlay claimed that he had no income other than Jobseeker's Allowance and no prospect of any future money. However, weeks later he received a tax-free lump sum of £54,000 from his pension scheme as well as regular payments from it.

Findlay admitted committing the fraud between 2010 and 2013. Dundee Sheriff Court was told he received £27,000 in pension credit and £16,800 in housing benefit and council tax benefit that he was not entitled to.

Depute fiscal Eilidh Robertson told the court: "When he made his initial claim on 13 January 2010, he was asked if he was receiving a pension from his previous employment and he said no. In 2014 intelligence was received that he was in fact receiving an occupational pension from Equitable Life. An investigation found that on March 22, 2010 he received a tax free lump sum of £54,181.11. He also began receiving his occupational pension on April 1 2010." Miss Robertson said Findlay did not inform the Department of Work and Pensions or Dundee City Council about his income.

Solicitor advocate Jim Laverty, defending, said: "Custody must be uppermost in the court's mind. He's a 67-year-old man who has never come to the attention of the authorities. He has contributed to society throughout his life. This lump sum came as a surprise to him. It was from a job he had in the 1970s and the pension company had spent some time trying to trace him because of his lack of a fixed address."

Sheriff Alastair Carmichael told Findlay: "Everything that can be said on your behalf has been said. You defrauded the public purse over a period of three years. It is in effect a fraud on society as a whole."


8 Sep 2017

Undeserving benefit cheat ordered to repay nearly £27k

A grasping divorcee who claimed benefit payments despite receiving a settlement of more than £250,000 has been ordered to pay back every penny.

And Assa Brown was told by a judge at Warwick Crown Court she is facing eight months in jail if she does not pay a total of £26,642 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Earlier this year the 50 year-old was sentenced to four months in prison suspended for two years and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to failing to notify a change in circumstances and making false statements to obtain benefits.

Over a period of four years Brown, of Wordsworth Avenue, Warwick, claimed a total of just over £27,000 in housing and council tax benefits and jobseeker’s allowance.

When she was sentenced a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act was adjourned for an investigation into her finances. And at the resumed hearing prosecutor Henry Skudra said it had been calculated that Brown’s benefit from her dishonesty had been £26,642 – and she had assets worth £325,355.

So Judge Andrew Lockhart QC ordered the confiscation of £26,642 under the Proceeds of Crime Act, with £21,731 of it being paid in compensation to Warwick District Council. The judge, who imposed an eight-month prison sentence in default of payment, also ordered Brown to pay £800 costs.

During the original hearing Mr Skudra said Brown had claimed housing and council tax benefits from October 2010, having said she was single and had a child in the household.

But she failed to declare she owned another property, bought with funds from her divorce settlement, or that she had an income from it.

Mr Skudra said when Brown, who has a law degree, first made her claim for housing and council tax benefit, it was legitimate – but it became fraudulent just a month later when she received the divorce settlement. And two false declarations she later made for jobseeker’s allowance were fraudulent from the outset.

Amiee Parkes, defending, had said: “What triggered this is an acrimonious divorce from her partner. When she first made this claim it wasn’t fraudulent, and she was advised to make it by the domestic violence unit. She didn’t know she was going to get the sum of money she did, but accepts she did not declare that or the property in Kingston-upon-Thames bought from the proceeds of the divorce.”

Miss Parkes said Brown had repaid a total of £4,640 and was having £3.70 a week stopped from benefits she still received.

Why is this a good use of money from taxpayers, many of them poorer than her?

Judge Lockhart commented: “I’d have been more impressed if she had repaid it all. She is a woman who is no doubt still sitting on enormous assets.”


7 Sep 2017

N Ireland politicians call for tougher benefit fraud sentences

Stiffer sentences should be imposed on people who fraudulently claim benefits they are not entitled to in Northern Ireland, politicians have claimed.

It comes after the News Letter obtained figures which reveal that a shocking £4m in social security benefits were falsely claimed in the Province over an 18-month period.

The figures, provided by the Department for Communities following a Freedom of Information request, show:

• There were 425 cases of benefit fraud dealt with by the courts service from January 2016 to June 2017;

• During that period, £3.97m was wrongfully paid out from the public purse;

• Only one person was handed an immediate custodial sentence, which amounted to one-month imprisonment;

• Cases range from relatively small amounts of less than £100 to over £100,000;

• The most egregious case saw one woman falsely claim almost £110,000 in housing benefit and income support. She was handed a 16-month suspended term;

• Another defendant who claimed £71,564.37 received 240 hours community service.

The sentences meted out by the courts in the vast majority of cases included community service orders, fines, probation or suspended jail terms.

The information provided by the department did not include a breakdown of the types of benefits that were being wrongfully claimed.

Benefit fraud costs taxpayers in Northern Ireland millions of pounds every year.

If a person is suspected of providing wrong or misleading information to do with their benefits – such as income support, Jobseekers Allowance or housing benefit – the Social Security Agency may investigate them for fraud.

It is important to note that not all overpayments of benefits are fraudulent, as a mistake may have been made by the benefits office or a claimant may genuinely not have been aware they had to declare a change of circumstance.

But UUP justice spokesperson Doug Beattie said more needs to be done to deter those people who make a concerted effort to cheat the system: “£4m is a shocking figure. But it is important that every case of benefit fraud must be dealt with on its own merits. Some people may have inadvertently claimed amounts without realising it was wrong for them to do so. However, there are undeniably people out there who purposefully make fraudulently claims for benefits which they have no entitlement to. We must not be afraid to give these people immediate custodial sentences. If all the courts are doing is handing out suspended sentences and community service, then the problem will not be addressed in the long run. The punishment must fit the crime.”

TUV leader and barrister Jim Allister said he believed many hard-working people will be asking if the courts are doing enough to combat the issue of benefit fraud: “It isn’t much of a deterrent when people wrongly claim sums like £70,000 and get away with probation orders or suspended sentences. I have no doubt that there will be many people who will be outraged by this, not least those who genuinely struggle to get by on benefits to which they are entitled.”

The Office of the Lord Chief Justice Office said it is “not appropriate” to compare the sentences imposed in different cases of benefit fraud, as the circumstances in each “may vary considerably”.

A spokesperson added: “Sentencing is a matter for each individual judge after consideration of the specific circumstances of each case. In calculating the appropriate sentence for the offence, the judge will have considered a range of factors specific to that case including the seriousness of the offence, the offender’s previous convictions, aggravating and mitigating factors, whether the offender pleaded guilty and at what stage in the process, the relevant law including the maximum sentence which the court can impose and any sentencing guidelines relevant to the offence committed.”


5 Sep 2017

Single parent benefit fraud discovered by accident after more than five years

A benefits cheat claiming to be a single parent was caught after she and her soldier husband applied to live in married quarters.

Samantha Barry, from Bulford, pleaded guilty to benefit fraud at Salisbury Magistrates Court.

Prosecuting, Kate Prince said Barry, who cried in the dock throughout the hearing, fraudulently claimed £18,000 between July 2010 and February 2016, by failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that she was living with her husband, Scott Dicks.

Ms Prince said Barry's claim for income support in 2010 was based on the grounds that she was a single parent.

But the DWP realised Barry and her husband had reconciled after they applied twice to the army to move into married quarters. Ms Prince said the couple had also had two children together during the period of the claim, which amounted to £18,231.99.

When interviewed, Barry said she and her husband had "only been together in that period for a short time" and "had told the army they were back together so they could move into a different home".

Ms Prince said the money was being repaid directly to DWP.

Defending, Nick Redhead said the investigation into Barry's fraud had been going on for 18 months and she was "extremely anxious about what was going to happen to her". He told Magistrates Barry was also nervous because of the "sheer shame of having to appear before you today".

Mr Redhead said Barry's claim was not "fraudulent at the outset" but since 2010 she and Mr Dicks had had "a somewhat turbulent marriage" and "there had been periods where they had been apart and some where they had been together". He said Barry had suffered from depression and anxiety and was being treated with medication.

Magistrate Elaine Stallard made a 12 month community order and ordered Barry to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work for dishonestly failing to notify change of circumstances affecting entitlement to social security benefit. She must also pay £85 costs and an £85 victim surcharge.