31 Jul 2014

Welfare reform in the air in Norway

Norway’s new government minister in charge of labour and welfare issues is poised to put some new demands on those collecting welfare benefits. Robert Eriksson thinks young passive welfare recipients must “be activated” by being required, for example, to perform tasks from shovelling snow to picking up litter in order to qualify.

“The most important way of securing the sustainability of the welfare state is to put more people to work,” Eriksson told newspaper VG this week, after unveiling efforts to make changes in the way Norway’s social welfare agency NAV distributes benefits. Passivity is the worst enemy of the unemployed and welfare recipients, Eriksson believes, so he wants NAV to activate them with such things as performing public service tasks.

Activity can also include educational programs that welfare recipients would be required to attend in order to qualify for benefits. Eriksson also wants to limit exports of social welfare benefits to Norwegian residents living abroad, for example by reducing payments in accordance with the cost of living where the recipient lives. Eriksson also intends to beef up probes of suspected welfare fraud.

Eriksson has been studying the NAV system since taking office last fall and met with dozens of NAV users and employees face-to-face last spring, in order to gather information and ideas. A commission set up to go through all facets of the NAV system is due to begin work this autumn. Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized in support of his proposals on Wednesday: “It’s worth a try to find new ways of warding off long-term unemployment and the prospect of falling outside of society.” For some youth, the paper noted, it can be necessary to prod them into getting up and out in the morning, and they also shouldn’t be paid as much in benefits as they’d get in a low-paid job. Cutting benefits, the paper reasoned, can make them more motivated to work instead of just collecting welfare.

Eriksson, of the conservative Progress Party, faces predictable skepticism and criticism from opposition parties in Parliament. Johnny Ingebrigtsen of the Socialist Left (SV) thinks the government should concentrate on welfare fraud instead: “We know that there are people who cheat the system. There are people collecting benefits who have the health and resources to work but who don’t. We need to smoke them out. Swindlers undermine the entire welfare system and respect for it.”

SV firmly opposes Eriksson’s plans to activate all welfare recipients. “Those who exploit the system mustn’t be confused with those who are struggling and who need to be taken care of,” Ingebriftsen said.

Eriksson maintains that the NAV system is overdue for modernization. “The challenge is that we will have around 1 million more people living in Norway by 2030,” he said. “That means among other things that the number of people working compared to those on pensions will sink to 2.9. There will be more youth who don’t complete high school along with tougher competition for jobs. So we must be more active before we can be passive.”

Eriksson also worries that welfare recipients tend to inherit the practice from their parents. Ingebrigtsen rejects that idea: “Studies show that there aren’t many recipients who’ve inherited a life on welfare,” he said. “There aren’t so many who are simply lazy.”

29 Jul 2014

Another slow benefit fraud case

A married couple have been jailed for carrying out a seven year £188k benefit fraud which helped buy properties and finance mortgage repayments. (h/t Dave)

Nicole Mwamba, 48, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and William Kapuya, 47, 14 months.

The couple, both of Campbell Road, Caterham, were last month found guilty at Croydon Crown Court of a combined 18 offences in relation to the scam, which took place between 2004 and 2011.

Mwamba claimed housing and council tax benefit, yet failed to tell Croydon Council that she had bought and held mortgages for two properties, in Beulah Grove, Selhurst, and Campbell Road, Caterham.

She told the council she lived in Langdale Road, Thornton Heath, and failed to declare that she was living with her partner in crime and husband William Kapuya.

Mwamba told Tandridge Council that she was a tenant at the Campbell Road, Caterham address, even inventing a landlord alias called Nikole Kapuya.

She also used a Belgian national’s details to claim housing benefit.

Meanwhile her husband William Kapuya committed a series of fraud offences by claiming benefits while failing to tell the authorities that he was living with Mwamba.

Instead he told Croydon Council on one occasion that he was residing in Ferndale Road, South Norwood, and needed rehousing, while on another said he lived alone in Partridge Knoll, Purley.

And when applying for a severe disability premium, Kapuya told the Department for Work and Pensions that he didn’t live with his partner.

Councillor Simon Hall, cabinet member for finance and treasury, said: “This fraud was only exposed following a very complex investigation, so it is a credit to all involved in the prosecution for bringing this case to a successful conclusion. These two individuals cheated the taxpayer out of a colossal sum of money by claiming they were single people with no sources of income or capital. It serves as a lesson to other fraudsters out there that you will be caught, and made to pay back the benefits you have illegally claimed.”

They made it look all too easy.

The claims seemingly were stopped in 2011; the case has come to court in 2014. Will we get our money back? We don't know.

28 Jul 2014

Scandalously light benefit fraud sentences

A couple who fraudulently claimed £120,000 in benefits have been spared jail because they have four children. (h/t Dave)

Amanda Casserley, 34, and Andrew Hayes, 39, were told they should be sent to jail for their crimes but they were let off because the judge was worried about what would happen to their brood.

Casserley claimed £106,000 in state support for single parents over a ten-year period including income support, council tax, housing benefits and tax credits.

But she rekindled her relationship with Hayes, the father of her children, in 2003 and failed to report it to the Department for Work and Pensions.

Hayes paid £150,000 into Casserley's bank account over five years and also claimed £15,000 in benefits himself despite having a well-paid job.

The pair, who were caught after an anonymous tip-off, pleaded guilty to benefit fraud but judge Mr Recorder Nicholas Hall took pity on them and spared them jail. Instead they were each handed 12-month suspended sentences.

Sentencing the couple from Bournemouth, Dorset, the judge said:
Amanda Casserley and Andrew Hayes, you are both a disgrace - that's the only way to describe you. You have defrauded the state for a period of 10 years in a deliberate and callous way. While it's fair to say you did not have a grand life defrauding the state, you had a comfortable one. In many ways I regret this sentence, because you should be going to prison but your children's welfare is uppermost in my mind.
Nick Robinson, prosecuting, told Bournemouth Crown Court that Casserley had legally claimed benefits for five years but had not informed the DWP that she was no longer a single mother. He said that Casserley had initially told DWP investigators that Hayes was not the father of her children while Hayes told them he was not Casserley's partner and the pair did not live together.

However, investigators did not believe the story and they were charged with dishonestly failing to notify changes of circumstances, acquiring criminal property and of being knowingly concerned with fraudulent payment of tax.

Susan Jones, mitigating for Hayes, told the court he suffered from Asperger's Syndrome and that he was a recovering alcoholic: 'He's a hard working family man. The motivation behind this offence was to provide for his family.'

Francisca da Costa, representing Casserley, said the couple had spent long periods estranged from one another.

Mr Recorder Hall sentenced Casserley to 12 months in jail suspended for two years, as well as 180 hours of unpaid work.

Hayes was also given 12 months, suspended for two years, and a curfew to stay at home between 7pm and 5am.

Yes, please roll up and help yourselves to our money, and provided you are both involved and have children, nothing much very bad will happen to you.


Pictures of this delightful couple

26 Jul 2014

DWP pats its back but tip-off ended benefit fraud

A benefits cheat who received £134,000 in welfare payments spent six months living in Goa undergoing plastic surgery, despite claiming she could not leave the house has been jailed for 27 months.

Karen Trant, 51, from Dartmouth, Devon, told the DWP that she was unable to leave her house or travel to strange places alone.

Anti-fraud investigators received a tip-off from a member of the public that Trant had bought an apartment in Goa and underwent several cosmetic procedures such as a tummy tuck, liposuction, teeth whitening and even the removal of 'bingo wings'.

Trant was sentenced to 27 months at Plymouth Crown Court after admitting four counts of fraud spanning 13 years. She admitted claiming disability benefits, income support, housing benefit and even council tax benefit.

Allan McColgan, DWP Fraud Manager in the South West said: 'Our fraud investigators have powers to track benefit cheats around the world and bring them before the courts. We are determined to crack down on people who play the system, so that benefits only go to those who really need this help. In addition to any sentence imposed by the court, fraudsters must pay back all the money they falsely obtained and face a criminal record for life. We urge anyone who suspects they know someone that is fraudulently claiming benefits to call our National Benefit Fraud Hotline on 0800 854440.'

No doubt puffing out his chest as he gave that quote. They only knew of this long benefit fraud because of a tip off.

Trant pleaded guilty to dishonestly claiming benefits over a 13-year period.

A CPS spokesperson said: 'Despite claims that she needed continual supervision, could not walk outdoors in unfamiliar routes without guidance or supervision and being stressed by crowded places, she holidayed in Goa, India, paid for cosmetic surgery and enjoyed horse-riding and socialising in crowds. After several holidays to this idyllic part of India, Karen Trant bought an apartment at the Highland Beach Resort in Candolim in 2004, which extended her stays by up to five months. Back in the UK, her false benefits claims continued.'

The court heard that Trant claimed £32,315.94 in income support, £8,134 in Employment Support Allowance, almost £30,000 in Disability Living Allowance and almost £65,000 in Housing and Council Tax Benefit.

Claire Busby, a lawyer with the CPS Specialist Fraud Division, said: 'Karen Trant failed to notify authorities of cash from her divorce settlement in 1999, that she frequently holidayed in Goa and that, in 2004, she had bought an apartment there. Had she done so, she would not have been entitled to the benefits she claimed. The Karen Trant seen confidently riding a horse in the photographs seems a world away from the highly-dependent and anxiety-ridden individual she purported to be to justify her welfare benefits claims. This fa├žade was completely undermined by her extravagant lifestyle, involving repeated lengthy trips to Goa and cosmetic surgery. The benefits system exists to support the most vulnerable in our society and Karen Trant had no entitlement to these benefits. She tried to conceal her wrongdoing, but was brought before the criminal courts and convicted by the jury.'

Calm down, Claire. She wasn't convicted by a jury, it seems she pleaded guilty. And all the DWP apparatus failed to spot her, she was shopped.


25 Jul 2014

Benefit fraud checks fall in Rotherham

Rotherham Council's publicity of benefit fraud in its area manages to say nothing about total levels of fraud. It concentrates on seccessful prosecutions for housing and council tax fraud, which rose by a third this year, from 29 to 37.

However, this has to be viewed against total number of investigations into suspicious cases, which actually fell, from 1,342 to 1,060. Fines and formal cautions were also down.

Fifteen benefit fraud cases exceeded £10,000. One woman had fraudulently claimed more than £28,000 in benefits over several years.

A council spokesman pointed out that their team receives referrals of possible fraud cases from many sources, including the public, the DWP, and the Housing Benefit Matching Service.

There were 13 successful prosecutions for misuse of blue badge permits.


In other benefit fraud news

Lydia Frempong, a life coach employed by Channel 4 to give confidence lessons to its staff, is exposed as a benefits cheat who carried out £5,000 scam

Deborah Otter and Nigel Bailey, a benefit cheat couple from Alsager, claimed £18k – despite having £140k in the bank, h/t Dave

Kelly Rowe benefits cheat from Macclesfield in £9k claim, h/t Dave

Jail for two housing benefit frauds

An Ealing student and a Hanwell man have been sent to prison for fraudulently claiming thousands in housing benefits after failing to notify Ealing Council of changes in their circumstances.

Taha Hussein, 33, was sentenced to eight weeks for failing to say he was a student and receiving student benefits, as well as holding undeclared bank accounts. As a result, he was overpaid more than £11,000 in housing benefits from 2006-08.

In a separate case, Saeid Eskandari, 37, was jailed for six weeks for claiming benefits he knew he was not entitled to. Returned post from the Hanwell address, where he no longer lived, sparked an investigation by the council’s fraud team which revealed he had dishonestly claimed more than £14,800 in benefits over 17 months from October 2010 to March 2012.

Both men pleaded guilty and were sentenced at Ealing Magistrates’ Court. The council is seeking to recover all money overpaid.


24 Jul 2014

The wheels of justice continue to grind slow

We noted con woman Yvonne Doyle here.

Dave points out that today - seven months after she was sentenced - she has been ordered to repay £107,584 from her husband’s bank account within six months or serve an extra two years imprisonment, with all the money recovered to be returned to the victims as compensation.


Blackpool benefit fraud "up 50%"

More than £1.8m was “stolen” from Blackpool taxpayers last year through fraudulent benefit claims, new figures reveal.

The total represents overpayments identified by Blackpool Council’s Benefit Fraud Team working alongside investigators from the Department of Work and Pensions in some cases, and is up from £1.2m the previous year.

During the last financial year (2013/14), the team uncovered housing benefit and council tax fraud amounting to just more than £1.2m, while joint inquiries with the DWP accounted for £600,000 of other benefits which recipients were not entitled to.

A report to councillors said the figures were “a strong indication that benefit fraud continues to be a problem in Blackpool.”

Formal action was taken in 294 cases on different levels, including 80 completed prosecutions.

In 2012/13 an estimated £1.2bn was lost in benefit fraud nationwide.

Blackpool Council’s Benefit Fraud Team will join the Department for Work and Pensions as part of the Single Fraud Investigation Service from April next year.

Recent cases in Blackpool include DJ Paul Holt who made false claims over a four-year period while working as an entertainer at the Hacketts York House Hotel, on Queens Promenade, Bispham. He had legitimately claimed a number of benefits from 2001 – after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of being caught up in the Bradford City stadium fire in 1985 which left 56 people dead. However, after returning to work at the hotel in April 2010 he neglected to tell the authorities of the change in his condition and continued to claim income support, disability living allowance, housing and council tax benefits. He was jailed for six months at Preston Crown Court after racking up almost £57,000 in false benefits.

Also in January, a grandfather who said he was so disabled he spent all day in his dressing gown was caught out after it emerged he was working three different jobs. He appeared before magistrates in January for defrauding the public purse of £12,000, and was jailed for 56 days.

In February this year a former soldier who failed to mention he was in receipt of an Army pension when he started to get Jobseekers Allowance, was fined £300 after magistrates heard that as a result he was overpaid £4,183.

Figures for previous years show benefit fraud uncovered by the Blackpool team totalled £1.1m in 2010/11 and £1.5m in 2011/12. Blackpool Council bosses refused to 
discuss the issue further.

In April this year the Government introduced new rules aimed at deterring benefit fraud. These include that up to 40 per cent can be deducted from benefits payments so money is returned more quickly, an increase in financial penalties from £2,000 to £5,000, and using bailiffs to confiscate high value possession from convicted benefits cheats.

This is the tip of the iceberg.


23 Jul 2014

Benefit cheat defrauded taxpayers of nearly £30,000 by pretending partner was her landlord

A benefit cheat has avoided an immediate prison sentence after she claimed nearly £30,000 in housing benefits when she pretended her partner was her landlord.

Rubina Bariwala, aged 34, fraudulently duped Bolton Council for more than three years when she claimed housing benefit and council tax benefit. She also wrongly claimed income support for more two months as she said she was a single parent.

Bariwala claimed £28,000 before her crimes were uncovered.

Bolton Council’s and the Department for Work and Pensions discovered her alleged landlord Imran Selot, aged 32, was the father of her children and lived with her and their two youngsters in their home in Deane Church Lane, Deane. Selot provided false details for the tenancy agreement and claimed he lived in Preston.

No one was suspicious because the couple had different surnames. But the alarm was raised when their second child was born and he had the same name as Selot, Bariwala’s alleged landlord.

She admitted a catalogue of charges relating to dishonestly claiming support for her benefit and was sentenced to a six month jail term, suspended for two years. She was ordered to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.

Selot, who pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Bariwala to make a false declaration on a housing benefit and council tax benefit change of address form, was given a community order with a four month curfew from 6pm to 6am.

Both were both ordered to pay £900 costs and an £80 victim surcharge at Bolton Magistrates Court.

The defendants each have to repay £10 per week. They will also repay Bolton Council for taking benefits fraudulently. They money will be paid monthly and was agreed out of court.

They have both since married.

A council spokesman said:
We are committed to protecting public funds and bringing benefit cheats to justice. While most benefit claimants are honest, there are unfortunately some who abuse the system. People pretending to live alone to get benefits is one of the most common types of benefit fraud. This particular case was a bit unusual as the claimant’s partner actually turned out to be her landlord
.Well, it's not so very unusual.