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17 Jan 2020

Repeat benefit cheat claimed for dead wife - prison again

A 71-year-old man fraudulently claimed almost £32,000 in benefits as his wife's carer while she actually lived in a residential home.

Norman Gill continued to receive benefits after she passed away, until someone anonymously told the authorities what was going on.

Gill had previously been handed a suspended prison sentence after using the public purse to pay the mortgage on his half-a-million pound house in Swansea by claiming to be penniless while in fact running two successful businesses.

He was back in court on Thursday for more benefit frauds, offences committed shortly after he was released from prison for failing to pay back money from the first scam.

Swansea Crown Court heard Gill's initial claim for carer's allowance and pension credits on the basis he was caring for his wife - who was suffering with MS - was legitimate.

However, when his wife's condition deteriorated and she moved into Swansea 's Hengoed Court residential home in March 2012, Gill continued to claim benefits he was not entitled to.

Tom Scapens, prosecuting, said over the course of the following years the defendant was sent regular letters reminding him of his obligation to notify the authorities about any change of benefits.

The barrister said in 2015 Gill was also asked to fill and return a pension credit form which specifically included a question about whether his partner was living in a care home, to which he had replied no.

The court heard Mrs Gill died in January 2018 but the defendant did not notify the authorities - it was only some three months later following the receipt of information from an anonymous source that checks were made with the care home, and the true situation was revealed.

Gill, from Langland, Swansea, had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of a change of circumstances when he appeared in the dock for sentencing.

The court heard that in 2009 he had been sentenced to 48 weeks in prison suspended for two years for benefit fraud. This offending had seen him claiming benefits from Swansea Council and the DWP on the basis he was unemployed and had no income - in reality he ran Piaf Fashions, which made him around £90,000 a year, and was the boss of property firm NT Project Management, which provided an income of up to £3,500 per month through its portfolio of houses in Swansea and Port Talbot .

The court heard he had been ordered to pay back £200,000 from his ill-gotten gains from this fraud but after failing to do was was jailed for 10 months. That financial confiscation order is still in place.

John Allchurch, for Gill, said it had been a "stressful and distressing time" for the defendant as he watched the health of his wife of almost four decades deteriorating - but he accepted he should have told the authorities about the changes in circumstances.

The court heard Gill has been in an "on-off" relationship with a woman in London for the last seven years, but the advocate said he did not know the "minutiae" of that relationship.

Mr Allchurch said his client's house was currently on the market for some £700,000 but there were two large mortgages on the property - both in excess of £300,000 - and if it is sold, the combination of those plus the outstanding confiscation order will extinguish any equity in the property, and leave the defendant homeless and having to leave "Swansea west".

Judge Paul Thomas QC told Gill he had embarked on his fraudulent claim for carer benefits "within a relatively short period" of having served a prison sentence for falling to pay what he owed from the original fraud.

He said the "persistence" of the defendant's fraudulent activities meant immediate custody was appropriate, despite his age.

Gill was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison - he will serve half that period in custody before being released on licence to serve the remainder in the community.

Source with pictures

16 Jan 2020

Man committed two social housing frauds

A housing fraudster from Kingswinford who sublet his council home has been handed a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years and a bill of more than £7,000.

Dudley Council successfully brought a case against John David Facer, aged 52, of Keepers Close, who was sentenced at Dudley Magistrates Court on Friday January 10.

Mr Facer was found to be subletting his one-bedroom property for three years while he was living in a property that he had bought in Kidderminster.

After selling the home in Kidderminster and making a profit of £58,000, Mr Facer moved back to Keepers Close and submitted a fraudulent Right to Buy application to purchase the property from Dudley Council.

Had his application been successful, this would have entitled Mr Facer to a discount to the value of £36,250.

However, due to further investigations into the sublet of the property the application was cancelled by the council.

Mr Facer pleaded guilty to subletting his council property, under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud.

Before sentencing District Judge Webster warned Mr Facer he was “close to leaving the court in a van” but he proceeded to sentence Mr Facer to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered Mr Facer to complete 240 hours of unpaid work.

Mr Facer will also have to pay back an unlawful profit order of £1,955.68, a victim surcharge of £115 and legal costs of £5,000.

Due to Mr Facer being unwilling to relinquish the tenancy voluntarily, the council are in the process of recovering possession of the property, in order that it can be allocated to an eligible applicant who is in need of social housing. The possession case is due to be heard at the end of January 2020.

Councillor Laura Taylor, Dudley's cabinet member for housing, communities and residents' welfare, said:
Mr Facer’s actions will have deprived someone in genuine need of housing and once again we are showing people that falsifying housing applications is a serious offence. I would remind anyone who may be considering falsifying a housing application that we will take legal action against people who commit housing fraud.
Source

15 Jan 2020

Lawyer was benefit cheat

A "Walter Mitty" lawyer who claimed £60,000 in disability handouts by falsely claiming he could barely walk was filmed by investigators scaling the stairs inside a courthouse.

Dr Alan Blacker, 47, said he was only able to walk with "much intrepidity, pain and fear of falling after only 20 yards but was photographed "moving with ease" at Cardiff Crown Court.

He also seen "looking particularly elated" after a legal victory where he scaled the court's stairs, saluted security staff as he was searched and pounded the corridors inside - giving staff a cheery wave en route.

Incriminating CCTV footage of Blacker - who also goes by the name Lord Harley - was taken by DWP officials who also discovered the school governor had helped construct a miniature railway.

He also took part in first aid training whilst claiming state handouts between September 1997 and October 2015.

Blacker a solicitor advocate, from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, who was once compared by a judge to a "character from Harry Potter" - claimed disability living allowance including a high rate mobility component which is usually applicable to claimants who have no legs or feet from birth or due to amputation.

In one claim form from 1998 he said: "My whole life centres around avoiding pain, I cannot carry on through life without it really impacting me and causing me real pain. I am not able to keep my focus on any other thing. I started with these problems in 1996. I have problems with self care. These problems cause a risk to my life".

In a subsequent statement he also said he had his own specially adapted shower and said: "Some days I lay in bed all day and cannot motivate myself to get up. I feel like my condition has worsened."

At Minshull Street Crown Court he was convicted of benefit fraud after the CCTV was shown to a jury.

He was sentenced to nine months jail suspended for two years after Judge Paul Lawton branded him a "dishonest man and a deluded fantasist."

Sentencing the judge added: "The picture you painted was one of a severely disabled man but what you said was plainly dishonest. You regularly went out and walked around without a walking stick, aid or carer.

"You walked around a primary school regularly in your capacity as school governor. You made weekly visits to the miniature railway societies where you assisted in driving and maintaining the trains and took part in track maintenance. Those were not the actions of a man on excruciating daily pain.

"You were walking around Cardiff crown court ascending and descending steel flights of stairs with no difficulty whatsoever.

"What you do have diagnoses of alkalising spondylitis and tenosynovitis but you simply use those existing conditions as a dishonest shroud behind which you completely exaggerated your physical disabilities.

"After observing you over a sustained period at trial, I am satisfied that you are not only a dishonest man, but also a deluded fantasist.

"Ultimately and in desperation you tried to tell the jury that the DWP were conspiring to convict you because of your success against them as a benefits appeal lawyer. This was utter desperation from a man confronted with the truth.

"One thing you plainly failed to grasp in your legal education Mr Blacker, is that the rule of law applies to us all - it has no preferences or favourites and those who abuse it are inevitably found out, as you were.

"The jury properly saw through your complete Walter Mitty existence. That was public money that you dishonestly claimed, the loss to the tax payer in excess of £60,000."

Blacker had come to prominence in 2014 when another judge at Cardiff demanded to know why Blacker appeared before him wearing colourful ribbons and badges on his gown to represent a man charged with death by dangerous driving.

He compared his Hagrid-like outfit to "something out of Harry Potter" and urged Blacker to dress more appropriately in future.'

At the time Blacker publicly claimed he was "shocked, appalled and very upset" by the criticism but CCTV of him at court was later seized after DWP officials suspected he was illegally pocketing handouts.

Miss Chloe Fordham prosecuting said: "Witnesses describe many circumstances where he was engaged in a number of actions such as first aid training, which requires physical actions and the construction of a model railway.

"He was seen walking up and down stairs and getting into and out of vehicles without difficulty. He was seen to use a stick but there was nobody helping him standing or walking.

"He believed he was someone who was entitled to retain his benefits but the prosecution say he was dishonest about the changes in his circumstances in order to continue to claim disability living allowance.

"The high rate mobility component is available to people who cannot walk at all, or have no legs or feet from birth or due to amputation.

"They can only walk short distances before being in severe discomfort or endangering their life. They are either 100% blind and/or 80% deaf, or somewhat mentally impaired.

"A middle rate care component is available for people who require frequent assistance getting in and out of the bathroom, washing, dressing and tending to their needs. They also require supervision throughout the day.

"The defendant said he needed someone for "physical support", for getting to the bathroom, and he had a problem keeping his balance. He said he could walk no more than 20 yards says he falls over regularly and has trouble crossing the roads.

"When asked if he would need someone he said "yes, everyday without fail. I cannot rise from my feet without someone, I cannot stand up for long enough".

He also said he has problems cutting up food and eating and drinking.

"He said he always found sitting painful and said he has to use large handled cutlery. In 2011 there was a further form claiming his entitlement to benefits was appropriate as he was unable to walk and needed full physical support.

"He said he received physical care from someone and said he was at risk of harming himself by accident."

"He said he practised law through a charity and not for financial gain and was shown footage where he was seen moving about with ease at Cardiff Crown Court in 2014.

"He told them he won a Crown Court case on behalf of a client and he became particularly elated but it It must have been clear to Alan Blacker that once he was able to move around, he should have informed those facts to the DWP. But he knew this would affect his entitlement.

The DWP stopped Blacker's benefits in 2016 following a review.

That same year he was struck off for making "inaccurate and misleading" statements about his academic qualifications and professional memberships and was later made bankrupt by the Solicitors Regulation Authority with debts of over £100,000.

Blacker denied benefit fraud. Defence lawyer lawyer Dominic D'Souza said in mitigation: "This man has suffered with many severe disabilities. These conditions are debilitating. He has assisted over 7,500 clients over a 25 year basis and he had been doing pro bono legal work.

"He is somebody, bar this incident, who has contributed to this community that puts people like me to shame.

"The question of being a doctor, or lord, or viscount, there are self esteem issues there. He has done an awful lot for an awful lot of people.

"He suffers from a Walter Mitty desire to improve his self esteem. This is not an out and out fraud. This will be paid back over time."

Source with pictures

6 Jan 2020

Pensioner jailed for benefit fraud

A "manipulative" man who said he was disabled and claimed almost £90,000 in benefits has been jailed after he was filmed living an active life.

Graham Branfield denied fraudulently claiming a little less than £90,000 in benefits, but a jury at Bristol Crown Court convicted him after deliberating for some 90 minutes on December 19.

While the 76-year-old claimed to be disabled, investigators who covertly filmed him discovered he was actually quite sprightly.

He was filmed delivering catalogues, shopping in a supermarket, and seen carrying bags of bird seed weighing between 20kg and 25kg.

Branfield, who lived in St Andrew's before moving to Knowle, represented himself in a trial this week at Bristol Crown Court.

A jury convicted him of fraudulently claiming £62,000 in Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and £25,000 in pension credit over 10 years.

Retired shopkeeper Brian Sheehan, who runs Fur and Feathers in Knowle, gave evidence during the trial. He said Branfield regularly purchased heavy bags of wild bird seed and pigeon corn from him two or three times a week.

He said the pensioner would park his car near the premises before carrying 20kg or 25kg bags to it without difficulty.

And former neighbour Helen Gillespie told the jury he was a regular dog walker. She also told the court Branfield would shop at Morrisons in Hartcliffe and carry items without difficulty.

Ultimately, Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) staff tailed Branfield as he went on one of his regular shopping runs, and captured evidence on camera.

Branfield, who had an interest in feeding wild birds, said he was suffering from a plethora of debilitating ailments for which he was medicated but he was still able to move around in pain.

He also admitted a small amount of catalogue work, for which he said he drove.

Judge James Patrick jailed Branfield for two years, to run extra to a four-year term he is serving for breaching a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

The judge said: "This was a simply breath-taking piece of dishonesty. You are an intelligent man and a man with some charm. But you are a manipulative man. Your application may have been honest from the beginning but you saw it as a blank cheque. You received very large sums of money indeed."

The jury heard interviews Branfield gave in early 2016 during an investigation into alleged benefit fraud. He said he had claimed DLA as he was suffering very badly and took pain medication.

Branfield said he suffered from a joint and muscle problem, renal problems and incontinence.

He said medication gave him the chance to be mobile but he was still in a lot of pain when moving and it had not got any better during the past 10 years.

He added a doctor had advised him Betterware catalogue work and feeding birds were giving him something to live for.

Branfield agreed he would leave home every day at 6am or 7am to feed pigeons and foxes unless he felt too unwell to go.

He maintained walking around did not stop him from suffering severe discomfort and he spent a lot of time indoors, lying on his bed, as he had difficulty coping.

Source with picture

3 Jan 2020

Bristol reports major successes in countering housing frauds

Fraud investigators at Bristol City Council have saved taxpayers more than £2million in the last six months, a report reveals.

The dedicated team’s work resulted in 19 council properties being recovered between April and October.

In one case that took 10 years ago to complete, a housing benefit cheat falsely claimed almost £20,000 after failing to declare owning a property.

Despite being convicted in 2012 and receiving a suspended jail sentence the following year, the culprit refused to abide by a confiscation order obtained by the council in court, which ordered the person to pay back the money plus £43,000 of local authority costs.

They served four months in prison as a result, and in 2019 the case finally came to a conclusion when a crown court judge appointed an enforcement receiver to force the sale of the property, with the council’s debt and costs to come from the proceeds.

The half-year counter-fraud report said the 19 council homes recovered amounted to nearly £1.8million, by far the largest portion of the savings to taxpayers.

A further £12,681 is recoverable to the council.

One council employee was sacked following a benefit fraud investigation with the DWP.

The 10-strong anti-corruption team, which investigates scams involving social housing tenancies, council tax reduction, direct payments and those carried out by council staff, also had successes in seven other cases from its tenancy fraud work, such as housing applications being cancelled or benefits savings.

Other examples, according to the report, included “a person removed from the housing register due to a fraudulent application, a person occupying a three-bedroom property but moved to a smaller property due to a fraudulent application and the removal of single person’s discount from a council tax account”.

It said a “key amnesty” was held in April and May with two housing providers where tenants committing fraud were offered the chance to voluntarily surrender their tenancy without recriminations.

As a result, two people handed back their properties, an anonymous tip-off led to a housing application being cancelled because a fraudster had failed to tell the council they had moved out of Bristol, and 23 cases are still under investigation.

Seven people who surrendered their keys during the amnesty period for “no apparent reason” were previously or currently subject to tenancy fraud investigation.

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Well done, Bristol!

2 Jan 2020

Council tenant in illegal sub-letting and right to buy frauds

A council tenant who had applied to purchase his rented home through the Right to Buy scheme has been convicted of illegally subletting it to his children.

Waltham Forest Council tenant, Uwe Werner, 55, applied to buy his Leytonstone property through the Right to Buy scheme, entitling him to a £108,000 discount.

However, the council’s Corporate Anti-Fraud Team established Werner was not living in the Sansom Road property but was in fact renting in Braintree, Essex.

Werner had been subletting the Leytonstone property to his two adult children over a three-and-a-half-year period between January 2015 and June 2018.

Werner was convicted at Snaresbrook Crown Court of illegally subletting the property and handed a two-year suspended prison sentence.

In mitigation Werner explained that his circumstances had changed in 2014 when his work led him to move to Braintree with his wife and youngest children, and so he made the improper decision to illegally sublet the Sansom Road property to his adult children, making a profit of £5226.00.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Pounder said: “You were originally a legitimate tenant, but your criminal liability is you took a decision which was the wrong decision.”

Judge Pounder also imposed an Unlawful Profit Order for the full amount by which he profited from subletting his council property.

Werner must now vacate the address or the council will instigate civil proceedings to terminate the tenancy.

A council spokesperson said: “Waltham Forest Council is committed to fighting corruption and dishonesty. Combatting tenancy fraud is high on our agenda as we work to ensure that our properties are made available for those who have a genuine need for them.

“We hope this case sends a clear message – we will fully investigate any suspected cases of tenancy fraud and those found guilty may be required to vacate their homes as Mr Werner will now have to.

“This property will now be used to provide a decent roof over the head of a new family, giving them the security and stability they need to make the most of their life chances in Waltham Forest.”

Source

30 Dec 2019

Illegal subletting finally resolved

A council house that was illegally sublet has been taken back by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council following a court ruling.

The council received allegations about the property in Hatfield in June 2017 and began to investigate, before starting possession proceedings in April 2018.

The tenant listed at the property, Mr Steane, was found to not spend any nights there, while another person was living there and paying him rent.

Mr Steane was found to have breached his tenancy in subletting the house illegally, and the court made an order allowing the council to take back possession of the property, as well as ordering Mr Steane to pay back the rent arrears he had accumulated.

The council's corporate director Simone Russell said: "With his actions Mr Steane deliberately defrauded the council. We take a hard line with people who illegally sublet and use the system for their own gain."

Source

28 Dec 2019

Benefit cheat exaggerated incapacity

Lying Dominic Lappin pocketed £75,683 of taxpayer money on the basis he was too disabled to work - while secretly employed as a delivery driver.

Lappin claimed a range of benefits, including Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments, which he was not entitled to.

A court heard he did have a bad back but he had over-egged his symptoms, claiming he was in constant discomfort and could only walk 10 to 20 yards very slowly and had to stop due to pain.

However, since 2013, he had been working as a delivery driver, driving for up to an hour at a time and being seen to walk 100 metres and climb stairs.

Now the 49-year-old, from Walker, Newcastle, caught after an anonymous tip off, has narrowly avoided going to prison after admitting benefit fraud at Newcastle Crown Court.

Recorder Abdul Iqbal QC told him: 'Over a period of almost six years, you claimed various benefits to which you were not entitled and you received them because you told lies to the DWP and the local authority.

'You received PIP, Housing Benefit, Employment Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance, all on the basis you said you were not working, had no income or that you were incapacitated. You were telling lies. You had an income from work you were failing to declare and you exaggerated your symptoms as a result of your incapacity.

'Hard-pressed public resources were diverted to you when they could have been used elsewhere, for deserving candidates and other public service. The taxpayer has borne the burden for all of that and it's certainly not a victimless crime.'

Prosecutor Stuart Graham said Lappin had made various claims about the state of his health, claiming he couldn't walk far without help, that he needed help rising from his seat, needed help going to the toilet and going up and down stairs and that he felt drowsy and uncoordinated due to his medication.

Mr Graham told the court: 'He was supposed to inform the department of any change in circumstances or work he undertook. The evidence shows he had been working for Elite Powder Coatings from January 2013 as a delivery driver. He drove for up to an hour at a time, clearly in contradiction to the statement he put forward.

'The company director saw him walk 100 metres and climb stairs without any physical distress and he never saw him use a stick or fall down. He never saw him appear nervous, anxious or drowsy or be unable to carry out his duties.'

Recorder Iqbal said Lappin had claimed to have taken up work to set an example to his children but he warned: 'I hope you are ashamed of yourself, standing in the dock, no doubt your children reading in the local newspaper that their father has been convicted of benefit fraud.'

The judge said he had just been persuaded not to lock him up as it would cost more public money to look after him in jail and it would jeopardise his job and his ability to pay the money back and may have an adverse effect on his children.

He was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years with 250 hours of unpaid work.

Brian Hegarty, defending, said: 'The defendant undoubtedly suffered a serious back injury for which he continues to receive treatment to this day. He suffered that in around 2009 while working as a JCB driver. He claimed for benefits and was entitled to then because of his incapacity. The charge is because his condition improved and he failed to inform the agencies.'

He added that the condition was variable and that he continues to use morphine-based pain relief as required and had to take time off work while employed as a part-time delivery driver due to it.

Mr Hegarty said it is possible Lappin would have been entitled to some benefits at a reduced level and was under financial pressure and started working to prove his worth to his family and set an example to his children.

He said he continues to work and rents his home, telling the court: 'He clearly made a terrible mistake.'

The court heard Lappin is paying back his ill-gotten gains at £340 a month and has so far paid back around £4,500.

Source with picture

21 Dec 2019

Universal credit manager stole claimants' payments

A woman who assessed people for universal credit has been sentenced for making fake claims and cheating people out of their cash. (h/t Dave)

Rebecca Hanway, 30, of Wigan, admitted defrauding the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of more than £18,000.

The claims team manager submitted two fraudulent applications and hijacked five claims to steal money, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.

She was sentenced to 16 months in jail, suspended for two years.

Hanway admitted nine counts of fraud by abuse of position at Bolton Crown Court on Wednesday and was also ordered to carry out 200 hours' unpaid work and attend 20 days of rehabilitation activity.

The CPS fraud unit said Hanway, who worked at a universal credit service centre in Wigan, misrepresented her own circumstances on two applications and stole five additional identities before submitting a further five fraudulent claims in their names.

She used her own bank account details to receive the universal credit advance payments and she also diverted advance payments from three other claims into her bank between September 2018 to April 2019.

She accessed the DWP computer system and lied about her own circumstances, the CPS added.

Justine McVitie, of the CPS, said Hanway was "a serial fraudster who abused her position of trust in a government department to cheat the public purse out of thousands of pounds".

She added: "She would have been aware of the many genuine claimants of this benefit who genuinely need the help and support of the state to survive. Yet, despite earning an income of her own, she cheated and lied her way to claiming money she had no entitlement to."

Source

20 Dec 2019

Thee role of fake singletons in total benefit fraud

Phantom singletons are set to cost taxpayers more than £10 million-per-week in overpayments, shock figures show.

Ghost claims will balloon to an estimated £580 million within two years for couples who claim to be living apart – but have set up with a partner.

But the bogus singles were last year paid £95 million in Universal Credit, £55 million in housing benefit and £6 million in Jobseeker’s Allowance.

There were also payments for £25 million in Employment and Support Allowance and a further £18 million in Pension Credit, government figures show.

Couples who claim to live in separate homes, often pretending their relationship has broken down, can rake in thousands of pounds in fraudulent payments.

It is due to cost taxpayers £350 million this year.

Duncan Simpson, research director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “These highlight absurdities in the welfare system. Some people will always be looking good to game the system, and that is made far easier when the referee makes the rules so unnecessarily complex. The government needs to prevent cheating but they can make that far easier by simplifying the benefits bill.”

Recent examples of this fraud that have come to court include mum-of-two Debbie Bowler.

She was paid £30,000 in benefits but was found to have flown off on holiday with the children’s dad for a month-long trip in Australia. Bowler, 41, of Colne, Lancs, had told the authorities that she lived alone but later admitted her partner stayed in the home three nights a week, although they slept apart. She admitted fraud and was ordered to do community service and pay back the cash.

Diana Young, 59, fraudulently claimed almost £30,000 in benefits by saying she lived alone in a home in Hull. However, she was unwittingly unmasked herself when she and her partner put in a joint application for tax credits. She admitted fraud and was given a suspended jail sentence.

Many of the bogus payouts are believed to start life as genuine claims, but then as a person’s personal circumstances change and a partner moves in, they fail to notify the authorities.

The most recent estimates suggest that £2.3billion in benefits was fraudulently claimed in the last year – more than £6million every day.

On top of this another £1.8billion was paid out in error – meaning fraud and error accounted for £4.1billion of last year’s total £184billion benefit bill.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Nearly 97 per cent of benefits are paid correctly so fraud and error is low. We work hard to sort out fraud and error overpayments, recovering more than a billion pounds last year.”

Source