22 Mar 2017

Jack the lad benefit fraudster

A man has been spared jail after he claimed £15,000 in benefits saying that he was too depressed and ‘anxious’ to work.

Stephen Astbury, 31, spent two years on benefits saying he had a split personality disorder.

But investigators collared him when they saw him on Facebook on a jet ski, snorkelling, posing with parrots, and in front of the Eiffel Tower.

The pictures also showed him working in the construction and scrap metal industries, quad biking, scrambling on bikes and using a JCB.

Magistrates in Blackburn heard that Astbury, from Great Harwood, Lancashire, was given a 90 per cent chance of losing his life in a crash on the M66 and was left unable to work.

Prosecutor Miss Enza Geldard said: ‘The defendant falsely claimed Employment Support Benefit and Housing benefit and this has led to a considerable over payment totalling £15,214. He had begun collecting ESA in 2010 on the basis that he was too ill to work and applied for housing benefit alongside this. He provided evidence that he was unfit to work due to a split personality disorder as well as anxiety and depression.

‘He was informed to notify the Department of Work and Pensions if his situation was to change. However in July 2014 evidence from his Facebook page showed that he was conduction scrap metal work. Evidence also showed that he was insured on a number of vehicles. They were insured for business purposes but the defendant was still entitled to drive these vehicles.’

A probation officer told the court: ‘The defendant accepts these charges but claims he was not aware he had to inform the DWP as he we was earning less than £100 a week. He has sole custody of his daughter and wants to give her a better life and spent the money on that. He was remorseful for his actions. He has five children in total with just his daughter residing in his care and he has built up debts of £9,000 – he will be needing assistance with that debt.’

Defending, Ian Huggan said: ‘This was not fraud from the outset the fraudulent claims began in 2013. People can still claim benefits if they are working less than 16 hours a week or earning less than £100 a week and there was some confusion surrounding that.

‘He is the sole carer of a seven year-old daughter and that is something that came about in 2013. He is someone who has made great steps to move forward in that regard. He describes himself as an uneducated tear away as a child when he was residing at home with his mother and step father. Last month he was involved in a very serious road traffic collision where he was in a situation of having a 90% chance of losing his life. He believes that this is a chance and opportunity to provide for his family.’

Astbury was given a 32 week prison sentence suspended for 12 months and was ordered to pay a £115 victim surcharge. Sentencing, JP Irene Devine said: ‘We have heard the evidence in regards to the fact that you didn’t initially set out to defraud the DWP or indeed the people. Looking at this you are trying to do everything you can to get your life back on track so we are going to try and deal with this in a sympathetic way but punish you at the same time. We hope this will prevent you from defrauding the department of work and pensions and the people again.’

20 Mar 2017

Do the DWP want this benefit fraud money back?

The bereaved family of a 91-year-old gran had a shock when they discovered she was a serial fraudster who had been fleecing the taxpayer for 35 years.

Ivy Johnson, of New North Road, Hoxton, had savings totalling £135,000 but paid just £7 of her £117 rent, had a care allowance and paid no council tax.

She did it by pretending a bank account containing £9,000 was all she had, when in fact she had 15 times that amount in savings, premium bonds and even shares in Santander.

Her family discovered the dirty money after Ivy died two weeks ago and have tried to give it back to the authorities – but are having a hard time getting them to take it.

One relative, who didn’t want to be named for fear of creating a rift in the family, told the Gazette: “I nearly had a heart attack. I’m really angry. How can any family inherit £135,000 of taxpayers’ money? All these benefits, carers going in four times a day – you are meant to pay for it if you’ve got the money. What about these poor people who are homeless on the street? We’d have inherited out of this but there’s no way we could touch money like that. It’s an embarrassment to us.

“We want them to take it all back, but Hackney Council don’t seem bothered. I’ve not heard back from them. This is not £5,000 or £10,000 – it’s £135,000. I also called the benefit fraud hotline and they told me it will probably be written off because she’s dead!”

The relative said Ivy knew what she was doing, and had “all her marbles”. “Money was her god. Money, money, money. She was on about it all the time, even in her 90s. She was extremely dishonest.”

A Hackney Council spokesman said the town hall had passed the information on to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which investigates cases of fraud.

The DWP did not comment when approached by the Hackney Gazette, referring them to its Freedom of Information department. Responses to FOI requests take a month and are not meant to disclose personal data.

17 Mar 2017

Bradford paper calls for missing child scheme to be extended

Here is an outline of a pilot scheme which could save us a lot of money.

A pilot programme to track down children missing from schools is also set to recover millions of pounds in fraudulent benefit claims.

Bradford Council, alongside Sheffield, Leeds, Harrow and Lancashire, are involved in the joint programme with HM Revenue and Customs, which started in January.

Councils have responsibility for all children registered at their schools which continues until it is confirmed the child has left their areas.

The trial, which runs until June, sees the councils sharing details of any children who have been reported as missing from school with HMRC after their officers have “exhausted” all other enquiries to find them.

HMRC then checks if the families are in receipt of any benefits, and, if there are any differences in addresses, they undergo further checks. It is estimated that £6 million of benefit fraud will be uncovered by the end of the trial period.

Alina Khan, Bradford’ Council’s strategic manager for education safeguarding, told the children’s services scrutiny committee, it had passed on details of 59 families to HMRC:
We have been passed details of alternative addresses for five families, and so far we have located four out of these five. Some are outside our local authority, and others are abroad. There are some families claiming benefits in the UK for children that no longer live in the country. There are huge monetary gains for HMRC. We are working for this to be rolled out as a standard practice beyond June. The HMRC will make a decision in this over the summer, and we hope they re-instate this scheme in September.
Councillor Dale Smith, chairman of the which considered the report, said: “From our point of view, this is mainly about finding children who are missing from education but any savings will be great for local communities as well.”

The committee was told that data protection issues meant the council were unable to share details of the families with other local authorities not involved in the pilot, even if the “missing” family is now living in their area. Cllr Smith said: “We should all lobby our MPs to have this pilot more widely extended.”

Councillor Imran Khan, the Council’s executive member for education, employment and skills said he hoped the work will continue after the trial period expires.

“This is the first time we have been able to share this information and until now had not been able to access the addresses of families who receive child benefits,” he said. “We have already seen positive results through this work in locating missing children so we are keen for this to continue beyond the six months of the pilot project.”

The Bradford paper rightly calls for the scheme to be rolled out nationally very soon:

For many years, dealing with the problem of pupils going ‘missing’ from school rolls has dogged Bradford and other councils.
The problem has even been exacerbated in recent years as increased EU migration has produced a more transient population.

Alarming as the figures can seem at face value, the vast majority of cases are simply caused by the fact that parents or guardians fail to tell local authorities when they remove pupils from schools to move to other parts of the country or, in many cases, abroad.

But substantial costs can be incurred in trying to locate those children, including working closely with police in some instances to ensure a child’s safety is not at risk.
Those checks can also be hampered by the Data Protection Act which, unbelievably so in these particular circumstances, outlaws families’ personal information being shared between local authorities.
Now, a ray of common sense has emerged in dealing with this issue.
As we report today, Bradford and four other local authorities are involved a pilot scheme with Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue using data-sharing agreements.
Its success has been immediately apparent.
Four out of five ‘missing’ Bradford families whose new addresses have been obtained through the data-sharing agreement have been found either in this country or aboard.
And it is forecast that when the six-month trial ends in June, the HMRC will also have uncovered £6 million of benefit fraud.
It seems obvious that this scheme should be adopted nationally and rolled out very soon.

16 Mar 2017

Jail for benefit fraudster with criminal record

Over the course of four years, a Maesteg man dishonestly obtained benefits of more than £12,800, it was stated at Cardiff Crown Court.

But throughout that period, 36-year-old Marc Waters had savings that varied between £6,000 and £30,026, said prosecutor Stuart McLeese. He was jailed for 12 months and ordered to pay costs of £340.

Said Recorder Timothy Brennan: “Your claim was fraudulent from the outset and it was over a long period of time.”

Waters had been convicted by Cardiff Magistrates of making a false statement to obtain benefits and failing to inform the authorities of his change of circumstances.

Mr McLeese said that £9,700 remained outstanding. He said Waters had claimed support allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefits between May 2010 and July 2014. The total he dishonestly obtained was £12,854.

Prior to that, said Mr McLeese, he had been claiming incapacity benefit and said he had been unable to work and had no savings. But he had savings, at one time over £30,000 which he had not declared.

When interviewed by the authorities, he said he “didn’t pay attention to important stuff” and had “taken his eye off his savings.” He later said he realised the importance of declaring his entire position.

The Recorder said he had received in the past a suspended prison sentence for 12 months for Trading Standards offences.

His solicitor, Vince Williams, said: “It is unfortunate that these matters were not dealt with at the time of the Trading Standards offences. He has written to the court a letter of apology and has expressed complete remorse.”

Mr Williams said that Waters had operated by “moving his money around”. He added: “It is highly unlikely you will see him before a court again. I cannot argue that the offences do not cross the custody threshhold.”


15 Mar 2017

Pensioner, 68, jailed for benefit fraud

A pensioner who claimed £73,000 of benefits he was not entitled to has been locked up for more than a year.

George Young, 68, claimed the cash while working for a painting and decorating firm.

He appeared at Aberdeen Sheriff Court for sentencing after previously admitting fraudulently obtaining the cash – totalling £73,090.05 – between April 2008 and April 2014.

Young falsely claimed £52,359.14 in pension credit as well as £16,212.84 in housing benefit and £4,518.07 in council tax benefit.

Fiscal Depute Alan Townsend previously told the court Young had at first applied for benefits while he was working for Aberdeenshire Decorating Services. He said the pensioner had started off working at the firm for free, so didn’t need to declare that to the authorities. But Young then started to be paid, a fact he failed to reveal.

During his sentencing hearing, defence agent John Hardie said his client had considered that what he was doing was providing a consultancy doing things such as administrative tasks, that only someone skilled in the trade could.

He added: “He did not feel what he was doing was unlawful until it was pointed out to him, on that realisation he tendered pleas.”

Mr Hardie also said that so far his client had repaid £9,855. He said: “He will be repaying until his dying day.” He also highlighted that Young suffered from some chronic medical conditions.

On jailing Young for 61 weeks, Sheriff Graeme Napier said:
This amounts to two frauds on the public purse, firstly in respect on pension credit, secondly for housing and council tax benefit. The appeal court in Scotland in 2010 made it clear that those convicted of benefit fraud on the scale you have been should expect to receive a custodial sentence.

14 Mar 2017

Hoddesdon catches up with keys amnesty

Tenancy fraudsters in Hoddesdon have the chance to give up their keys without fear of prosecution as part of a crackdown on illegal sub-letting. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

Hoddesdon housing association, B3Living, will work with Hertfordshire Shared Anti-Fraud Service to tackle tenancy fraud within its 4,600 homes.

It is estimated between two and seven per cent of housing association homes are occupied by someone who should not be living there.

The key amnesty will last throughout March and gives anyone illegally sub-letting or not occupying their property the chance to hand back keys to the main reception at B3Living's offices in Hoddesdon.

Deborah Fenton, head of housing at B3Living, said: "We are encouraging other residents and members of the public to report fraud so that we can investigate it – you will be helping families who are affected by the housing crisis and are in desperate need of a home."

There are 237 families living in temporary accommodation in Broxbourne and B3Living has underlined the importance of tackling fraud.

Tenancy fraud covers key selling – where a resident receives a one-off payment to hand over their keys – to subletting, where a tenant lets the whole or part of the property without the consent of the homeowner for financial gain. It also covers application fraud where a tenant provides false or misleading information on their housing application.


13 Mar 2017

Hefty fines and costs for blue badge frauds

Two fraudsters pleaded guilty to abusing the use of blue badges for disabled people, paying a combined total of nearly £3,000 in fines and costs.

The pair, from Cheshunt and Waltham Cross, admitted to displaying blue badges not belonging to them at St Albans Magistrates' Court on Wednesday March 1.

Majinder Singh, 37, from Waltham Cross, parked in a disabled bay in Lynton Parade in Cheshunt on September 30 last year, displaying a blue badge belonging to his disabled wife, who was not there at the time. He was ordered to pay a fine of £500 and investigation costs of £500.

Adam Rozbicki, 38, from Cheshunt, displayed a blue badge belonging to his disabled father on the same day while he visited the Laura Trott Leisure Centre. He landed a fine of £800 and was ordered to pay investigation costs of £1,049.

Chris Hayward, cabinet member for resources, said: "The blue badge is for the sole use of the person named on it and must only be displayed if the badge holder is travelling in the vehicle as a driver, or passenger, or if someone is collecting them or dropping them off.

"Abuse of the blue badge scheme is unfair on genuine badge holders and offenders will be prosecuted if caught.

"Regular checks are made on blue badges and their usage to ensure that they are not stolen, forged or being misused."

Both investigations were conducted by the Shared Anti-Fraud Service, which works in partnership with Broxbourne Borough Council to investigate and prosecute allegations of fraud against council services.

The Shared Anti-Fraud Service has identified fraud valued at more than £1.1m since April last year.


9 Mar 2017

Didcot woman in £13k benefit fraud

A woman from Didcot has been sentenced to carry out 100 hours of work after pleading guilty to gaining £13,000 through benefit fraud.

Kyleigh Fisher, 31, appeared at Oxford Magistrates' Court on Friday, March 3 and admitted two charges relating to claims for housing benefit and council tax reduction.

Magistrates heard that she had failed to notify South Oxfordshire District Council that her partner had begun work.

As a result, between March 2014 and June 2016 she wrongly received a total of £10,750 in housing benefit and £2,322 in council tax reductions.

As well as being ordered to carry out unpaid work Ms Fisher was also fined £200 and ordered to pay £185 in costs and victim surcharges.


8 Mar 2017

Illegally sublet dwelling reclaimed

A clampdown on fraudsters has got off to a successful start after Aldwyck Housing Group successfully gained back a Watford property which was being illegally sublet.

Aldwyck was awarded a 42 day possession order against Jo-Ann Cooper, who was illegally subletting the whole of her Wilmington Court property. Working closely in conjunction with Watford and Three Rivers councils, Aldwyck was able to take the case to court and was awarded £11,650 in costs.

It is hoped that this successful case will send out a clear message to those who are committing tenancy fraud.

Tony Campbell, head of housing at Aldwyck, said: “Aldwyck, Watford and Three Rivers have sent out a clear message to any residents that tenancy fraud will in no way be tolerated. It’s great that we are able to work closely with our local authority partners to ensure the people who most need our property receive it.”

Councillor Mark Watkin, responsible for resources and customer service at Watford Borough Council, said: “This is yet another example of how the local authorities work with housing associations in order to combat fraud. The result of this investigation has led to a property being freed up for those that need it as there is a very high demand for social housing.”


4 Mar 2017

Judge: benefit thief was sorry that she'd been caught

A woman from Broadstairs has been jailed for 18 months after being found guilty of fraudulently claiming more than £150,000 in benefits from a London council.

Footage captured by The Royal Borough of Greenwich’s anti-fraud team captured Lisa White, who claimed to need an oxygen tank and walking stick, dancing and singing to a Mariah Carey song.

Mrs White, who ran the Bandstand Kiosk in Broadstairs, was also filmed lifting heavy loads from a cash and carry into a car.

During the fraud the 54-year-old and her husband Andrew White enjoyed five nights on the QE2 cruise liner; a 21-day Mediterranean cruise on the Queen Victoria; a £5,500 26-night Caribbean cruise on the Oceana and, after their arrest, a 28-night £9,000 New York and Caribbean cruise on the Queen Mary 2.

Mrs White had claimed disability, based on obesity, in 1995. But after a gastric band operation in 2005 her weight plunged from 27 stones to 13 stones. However, she kept claiming Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Employment Support Allowance.

Mrs White had received Direct Payments of £315 per week, from the Royal Borough of Greenwich since February 2000 and in 2014, Mrs White claimed that her carer was Mr White, whose address was given as Broadstairs.

The Whites bought a mansion block flat in Broadstairs in 2007 and in 2009 Lisa was the highest bidder to take over the seafront Bandstand Kiosk. The pair also ran The White House cafe in Oscar Road, where Mrs White was filmed dancing and singing.

However Mrs White claimed to be living in a council property in Eltham with her mother but the team did not believe that a personal carer would travel from Broadstairs to Eltham every day.

Council administrators also spotted anomalies in bank statements provided by Mrs White relating to her claims.

The team’s concerns were raised with the council’s anti-fraud team, who began to conduct further inquiries.

Mrs White claimed to have a number of health issues in order to claim a range of benefits, saying that she required care and assistance on a daily basis; that she could not dress herself without assistance; was unable to lift kitchen items such as pots and pans; required the assistance of oxygen tanks to regulate her breathing and had to use a walking stick indoors and a wheelchair outdoors in order to assist her mobility.

Surveillance footage revealed Mr and Mrs White coming to the council’s Woolwich Centre to drop off papers relating to a rehousing application that she had made, where she appeared to have great difficulty walking. Two days later she was filmed in Broadstairs where she walked unaided with no use of a walking stick, which she claimed to need to walk, and no sign of the oxygen tank that she also claimed to need.

She was also filmed running her business at the Bandstand Kiosk, including serving customers with plates of food, lifting and carrying heavy supplies from a cash and carry, carrying purchases on a shopping trip to a large shopping centre, and dancing.

She was in receipt of employment and support allowance, incapacity benefit and higher rate disability living allowance. The higher rate disability living allowance also allowed her to have access to the Motability scheme and obtain a Motability vehicle. She also had a Blue Badge that entitled her to free parking.

Fraud investigators carried out detailed checks on Mrs White, and determined that she was in fact paying her carers payments to her husband – according to records it showed that she was living in council housing with her mother in Eltham in the Royal Borough, stating that it was her only home and did not own a property anywhere else, however records showed that her name was linked to two properties in Broadstairs as well as a café and the bandstand kiosk.

Mr and Mrs White appeared at Inner London Crown Court in December, when Mrs White pleaded guilty to 13 charges of fraud and Mr White pleaded guilty to two charges; one charge of aiding and abetting under the Fraud Act 2006 and one charge under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The total amount of money fraudulently claimed was £151,933.26.

Mrs White has been sent to prison for 18 months and Mr White received a nine-month suspended sentence.

As he jailed her, Judge Tudor Owen commented on the video saying: “She’s dancing around. I can see why she’s happy. If I was getting money for nothing, I’d be happy.”

He told Mrs White: “I am told by you that you are remorseful and I have no doubt you are sorry you were caught. I’m not convinced your remorse is genuine. Even after you were arrested you then went on a cruise, you both took a 28 night cruise on the Queen Mary 2. You had a liking for the Caribbean. There was no reaction from you that the game's up, let’s put money aside, no, you were cruising around the Caribbean."

Councillor Maureen O’Mara, cabinet member for customer services at Royal Greenwich said: “Mrs White presented herself as a severely disabled woman, needing daily care with everyday tasks, and was making full use of all the benefits available to her. She was not genuinely in need. Indeed, she carried out a deliberate and sustained fraud, stealing a staggering amount of money – money meant for people who are genuinely in need. She fully deserves this sentence, and the criminal record that will now follow her.”