7 Oct 2015

Bishop of Manchester says let benefit cheats off

Benefit cheats should be allowed to get away with fraud to stop innocent people being punished with sanctions and late payments, a leading bishop has said.

The Rt Rev David Walker criticised the "Kafkaesque" workings of the welfare system, which he said produced too many wrongly imposed sanctions and delays. The Bishop of Manchester made the remarks at a Conservative Party conference fringe event in the city.

He claimed innocent people are trapped in the drive to catch fraudsters.

The bishop said:
The way that policy is being implemented - there are too many delays, there are too many wrong decisions and that does lead to too many innocent people effectively being punished.

We have to let a few manipulative people get away with it if we're not going to have too many innocent people punished.

I don't think we can put the burden of proof so far over to making sure nobody ever pulls one over our eyes that we trap lots of innocent people.
The bishop backed Universal Credit but was not confident poor people would not continue to bear the burden of inefficiencies in the system.

Criticising the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) he said:
My first priority would be to drive down the unacceptable delays in benefit payments and the wrongful or overzealous imposition of sanctions. I think they have got out of hand and at times it's almost Kafkaesque to have a situation that is dysfunctional, [which] dissuades people from getting involved with it - is that in itself meant to be a disincentive?
A DWP statement said: "Our vital reforms are restoring fairness to the system for claimants as well as the taxpayer." A spokesperson also stressed that fraud is unacceptable as the money needs to go to those in need.


6 Oct 2015

The 20 constituencies with the highest benefits bill

Spread round the country

Basildon gets round to offering keys amnesty

Council tenants illegally subletting their properties have been offered a ’get out of jail free card’, before Basildon Council launches a major clampdown.

The authority will hold a tenancy fraud amnesty, whereby any illegal landlords who admit to their crimes by November 7 will escape prosecution.

However, once the campaign ends, the council will be allocating extra manpower to seeking out remaining offenders and seeking severe punishments through the courts.

The offending tenants have been told to hand their keys in by the cut-off date or face prosecution. A collection box for keys has been installed in the council foyer.

A council spokesman said that once the amnesty ended, the authority will start enforcing the new Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act, which has made it easier to prosecute offenders by introducing two new offences. Those successfully prosecuted under the new act could be sent to jail and/or ordered to pay up to £50,000.

Council leader Phil Turner said:
This campaign will tackle housing fraud in the interests of supporting those in genuine need and ensuring we deliver value for money. Once the key amnesty ends, our team will be working 24/7 and any tenant caught committing council house fraud will face prosecution. The campaign is seen as a major offensive on housing fraud, with extra resources being made available to investigate and prosecute. Work elsewhere in the country has shown that as much as five per cent of council-owned properties are involved in some form of housing fraud. This means there are potentially hundreds of families on Basildon’s waiting list who shouldn’t be there.

5 Oct 2015

Light sentence for calculating benefit thief

A woman who claimed council benefits despite running a used car dealership turning over up to £1m a year has avoided jail, according to the council. Joyce Abboud was instead given a suspended six-month sentence after admitting to a single count of dishonestly claiming housing and council tax benefits, Kensington & Chelsea Council said.

A warrant has also been issued for the arrest of her husband, Youssef Abboud.

The court heard when the defendant and her husband, from Shalfleet Drive in White City, claimed benefit in 2005 she told the royal borough that Mr Abboud was only earning an average of £100 per week from his company Abboud Ltd.

However, when K&C made further enquiries with their accountant, it emerged that the used car dealership was far more financially successful than they had declared, with a turnover of between £600,000 - £1m.

The couple also had a number of undeclared personal and business bank accounts, the council said, which they had used to hide the true level of their earnings from the council.

This prompted the council to call Mrs Abboud in for an interview under caution in February 2013 in which she admitted that extra income would lead to a reduction or cessation of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

As a result of her failing to declare changes in her income, Mr and Mrs Abboud received approximately £30,000 in housing council tax benefits to which they were not entitled to between October 31 2005 and July 16 2012.

Although she initially pleaded not guilty, she changed her plea to guilty on what would have been the first day of her trial, on July 28 at Isleworth Crown Court, the council added.

Appearing for sentencing at the same court on September 25, judge Recorder G Curtis-Raleigh gave her a six-month sentence suspended for 12 months and ordered her to do 120 hours of community service.

He told Abboud: “Let me be clear, benefit fraud takes scarce and vital public resources away from those who desperately need it and lines the pockets of the greedy. It is money raised from the taxes of honest and hard-working people and wrongfully taking it undermines trust in the system”.

As Mr Abboud failed to attend an interview under caution and subsequent magistrate court appearances. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.


2 Oct 2015

North Tyneside reports on tenancy fraud

More than a dozen homes have been taken back as part of a crackdown on residents committing tenancy fraud.

In the past year, North Tyneside Council has taken back 17 properties after discovering the tenants were breaking the law.

A series of investigations found people illegally subletting their council homes, using false information to acquire a house and tenants not using their properties as their main or only home.

One case revealed a couple from North Shields claimed they were homeless to enable them to jump up the housing waiting list, even though one of them already had a council home, and they then sublet the spare property.

Another investigation found that a woman had bought her own home in Tynemouth, but at the same time, she was committing fraud by attempting to buy a North Shields council property, through the Right to Buy scheme, which she claimed to be living in.

Coun John Harrison, cabinet member for housing and transport, said:
Tenancy fraud prevents homes from being made available for families and individuals with a genuine and sometimes desperate need for council housing.”

As well as it putting a strain on our housing waiting list, it’s estimated that it costs local governments nationwide around £900 million per year– money which could be much better spent elsewhere – and North Tyneside Council will not tolerate it.

We take all reports of alleged tenancy fraud very seriously and will fully investigate reports using all the powers available to us to do so. We will also continue our robust checks those wishing to rent our properties
The 17 homes were recovered by the council using new powers introduced by the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013.

The act has seen tenancy fraud become a criminal matter – and local authorities now have the power to prosecute those who unlawfully sublet their social housing.


1 Oct 2015

Benefit thief wins appeal against sentence

Jacqueline Welsh, from Chislehurst, pleaded guilty to defrauding Bromley Council out of £31,450 in housing benefit and council tax benefit/support over the period February 2006 to April 2015.

It was also established that the Department for Work and Pensions had overpaid her £3,013 in Job Seekers Allowance.

A referral from Bromley’s Benefit Section led to an investigation that showed that Ms Welsh had failed to declare a change in her circumstances.

Ms Welsh failed to declare that she was married and had joint bank accounts that had substantial amounts of income going through them.

Having pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to declare a change in her circumstances, Ms Welsh was initially sentenced on the August 7, 2015 at Bromley Magistrates Court to 20 weeks imprisonment.

She appealed this sentence and at Croydon Crown Court the Bench allowed the appeal replacing the original 20 weeks immediate imprisonment with one of 20 weeks imprisonment suspended for a period of 12 months.

The Judge indicated that he had taken into account Welsh’s guilty plea, her references, repayment plans, the fact that she may lose her current employment if she was sent to prison and her child who is dependent on her.

No costs were awarded as her finances were now tied up in repaying the amount defrauded but there is requirement to pay a victim surcharge of £100.


30 Sep 2015

Scrounging mum and daughter who used 100 different names to scam benefits must pay £170k

A scrounging mum and daughter who used 100 false names to leech more than £170,000 in benefits have been made to repay the lot.

Fraudster Tabassum Begum dishonestly claimed £34,537 of housing benefit, £10,875 in council tax benefit and £80,395 of income support from the public purse.

And her mum Bushra Begum, 70, was overpaid £6,600 of pension credit, £27,568 of housing benefit and £8,500 in council tax benefit - bringing her ill-gotten fortune to £42,666.

Yet Tabassum, 41, was hiding more than £150,000 in 79 accounts registered under a variety of names, despite claiming for nearly a decade between July 2003 and July 2012.

While Bushra was sitting on a hidden stash of £62,416, spread between 21 accounts, even though she spent six years on benefits - from January 2007 to February 2013.

Now Watford Borough Council has recovered virtually all of the money the crooks claimed - and Tabassum faces a jail sentence for her crimes.

Bushra of Rose Gardens, Watford, was handed an 18-month jail sentence suspended for two years after pleading guilty to four charges of dishonest representation in April.

Tabassum of Chesham Way, Watford, will be sentenced on October 5, having confessed three counts of theft and one of fraud at the same time

Gary Turner, the council's fraud manager, said after conviction: “These prosecutions show the lengths to which we will go to crack down on people who abuse the system. Benefits are there to help the poorest in our society. People who commit benefit fraud are stealing from the taxpayer and we will not tolerate it."


29 Sep 2015

Recidivist pensioner over-claimed thousands in benefits

A pensioner who owes a total of £38,000 in benefits he overclaimed is paying it back at £18.75 a week, a court has heard.

William Robinson, 66, of Mercer Street, Preston, has a criminal record for dishonesty offences dating back to the 1960s, Preston’s Sessions House court was told.

Robinson’s nine-month prison term was suspended for 12 months due to his ill health and age and he was given a curfew. But the judge, Recorder Simon Medland, said: “This case is so serious only custody is justified. We live in stringent times and the public can’t afford people like you taking money to which they are not entitled.”

Prosecuting at Preston’s Sessions House court, Huw Edwards said Robinson was convicted of benefit fraud in 2010 after over-claiming £18,000 when he was working 25 hours a week as a carer.

He has since pleaded guilty to four other benefit fraud offences, over claims for pension credit, housing benefit and income support over a period between 2009 and 2014, when he maintained a common law household in Woodrow House with his wife, a care worker, whom he wed in 2005.

The latest offences add up £27,000, bringing the total he had defrauded the public purse of to £45,000, he said. He now owes £38,000.

The court heard Robinson had continued to claim as if he was a “single man with no other income”.


With his record you'd think his claims would receive extra scrutiny.

If so, it didn't work.

28 Sep 2015

Snooker player's partner gets away with big benefit fraud

A woman who lived with a professional snooker star has been spared jail after taking £86,000 in benefit fraud - so her innocent children aren't deprived of their mother.

Juanita Thorne, 37, of Holding Street, Gillingham, moved in with Gerard Greene in 2005 but she still claimed income support, job seekers allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit and discretionary housing payments totalling a whopping £86,844.13. But because of her low income a judge has also ruled she does not need to pay any costs for her offences.

Thorne told investigators from Medway Council and the Department for Work and Pensions that despite moving in with Mr Greene, who is ranked 40th in the world, she did not believe the relationship would last.

She also continued to claim income support as a single parent and other benefits relating to a previous address in Charing Road, Gillingham. She had signed documents to say she was living at Charing Road to get social housing from Medway Council; but had not done so since 2005 and had acted dishonestly when obtaining the tenancy.

The offences only came to light when a complaint was made to Medway Council about the state of the garden at Charing Road. Medway Council officials soon established she had not been living at the address for years. The property has since been recovered.

At Maidstone Crown Court, Thorne pleaded guilty to a charge of obtaining property by deception regarding the tenancy at Charing Road and received nine months imprisonment suspended for two years with 200 hours unpaid work.

She also pleaded guilty to seven dishonesty offences relating to her fraudulent claims for income support, job seekers allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit and discretionary housing payments between 2005 and 2013.

For the offence relating to her dishonest claim for income support, which amounted to over £50,000, she was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment suspended for two years with a requirement to complete 200 hours unpaid work.

For the other offences she was sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended for two years with a requirement to complete 200 hours of unpaid work. The sentences will run concurrently.

No costs were awarded due to her limited income and Judge Philip St John-Stevens, said he would not send Thorne to jail because it would deprive innocent children of their mother.

Medway Council’s leader and head of finance, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said:
This case demonstrates that if you commit any type of benefit fraud you will be caught no matter how long you have got away with it for. These people are not just committing offences against authorities like Medway Council, they are committing fraud against every single tax payer who ultimately picks up the bill. They also put those who are in genuine need of benefits in a bad light. If the court had not taken this woman’s children into consideration she would now be looking at a very long time behind bars.
Department for Work and Pensions and Medway Council work together to stamp out benefit fraud and will continue seeking to reclaim the money that was paid to Thorne.


The Judge treated her with kid gloves.

25 Sep 2015

More sentenced in huge Ilford benefit scam

Two Ilford benefit fraudsters have been sentenced for their part in a massive scam which saw millions stolen by people claiming to be employed by bogus companies.

Ahmed Faruque, 45, and Soyef Ahmed, 51, were ordered to pay back thousands swindled from Redbridge Council in housing benefits. The pair had changed their plea to guilty in August after initially denying the crime.

Barkingside Magistrates’ Court heard how Faruque made his first claim in February 2013, a week after being approached by somebody in Italy telling him of the scam. In Ilford, he produced fraudulent pay slips saying he was working for Ilford company Families for Survival UK and over the next seven months fraudulently claimed £7,312.11. The court heard Faruque moved with his wife and two children to Ilford where he met a fundraiser and for a few days was actually working for Families for Survival UK. He soon realised it was illegal but desperate to provide for his family he continued with the scam.

He was ordered to pay back the full amount and serve 180 hours of unpaid work in addition to a £60 victim surcharge.

Ahmed, who stole £3,285.83 between December 2013 and May 2014 by performing the same scam, said he realised after a few days that what he was doing was illegal, but carried claiming anyway because he was in financial difficulty. He was ordered to pay back the full amount plus the £60 victim surcharge and given 120 hours of unpaid work.

Sentencing them, district judge Sandeep Kainth said: “You may well have thought it was a quick way of making some easy money – it wasn’t. All actions have consequences.”

So far, 33 people have been charged over the scam following the investigation by Redbridge Council, and 22 people have pleaded guilty to 24 offences.

Cllr Kam Rai, cabinet member for finance, said: “We will absolutely not tolerate fraudsters who exploit the welfare system and place extra pressure on limited resources required by the genuinely needy. We have worked hard to root it out and are very pleased the perpetrators are being prosecuted. Our message is clear, if you commit fraud, we will come after you and you will be punished. This fraud was detected late last year and since then our Benefit Fraud Team has been painstakingly investigating to collect the evidence and this success is a direct result of their very hard work."