21 Oct 2014

Govt announces cosmetic benefit fraud campaign

The Government is launching an advertising campaign targeted at nearly 50 towns and cities to urge claimants to report changes in their circumstances or risk a jail sentence.

Ministers are highlighting the types of fraud that are hiking up the estimated £1.1 billion benefit fraud bill, such as people who fail to say a partner has moved in or who don't notify the authorities if there is more money coming in.

The campaign also appeals to members of the public to call the benefit fraud hotline if they suspect someone is claiming benefits illegally.

Calls to the hotline topped 150,000 in the last year, an average of more than 600 calls every working day.

Department for Work and Pensions Minister Mark Harper said: "We are giving benefit claimants every opportunity to tell us if their circumstances have changed, as the majority do. But those who cheat the system need to know we will use everything in our power to stop them stealing money from hardworking taxpayers, and that they could land themselves in jail when they're caught.

"Our fraud investigators have new and better methods of detecting benefit cheats so it's becoming harder to hide and more difficult to escape punishment."

Area fraud investigator Jane Baker said: "What might seem like a white lie can quickly escalate into a serious case of fraud, with the claimant suddenly finding themselves owing thousands of pounds to the taxpayer and risking a prison sentence."
We discussed housing benefit fraud only yesterday, and the extent of single parent benefit fraud in the comments here.

Of course total benefit fraud is several times the government figure of £1.1bn trotted out again in this press release. If the DWP wanted to know the real extent of benefit fraud, they would conduct a few intensive local exercises to expose it.

But they don't want to know because they wouldn't be able to handle it nationwide, and the public indignation would damage whichever government was in power.

This is wilful blindness.

There are so many claimants that it's impossible to police them effectively. The point of campaigns like this is to give the impression that government's getting to grips with the problem of benefit fraud. But it can't.

20 Oct 2014

"Staff cuts increase housing benefit fraud"

Government cuts and the strain on the benefits system have made it easier to commit housing benefit fraud than ever before, according to experts.

The warning follows a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) which revealed that the DWP lost £1.4bn in overpayment of housing benefit due to fraud or error in 2013-14 – up from £980m in 2010-11.

Council staff and benefit advisers report that local authorities are being encouraged to cut corners when processing housing benefit claims in order to hit monthly targets imposed by the DWP. Councils are also under growing pressure due to dwindling staff numbers and a rise in the number of in-work claimants of housing benefit.

Housing consultant Peter Barker said that council staff were forced to rush through claims to meet arbitrary targets set by managers and central government. This required processing the most straightforward claims without double-checking their accuracy. "That type of approach is pretty widespread. They call it risk-based verification," he explained. "Sometimes they use IT gizmos to help, sometimes local authorities just devise their own methodologies."

Cuts to the number of staff working in council housing benefit departments, as the Government reorganises how the benefit is administered, have also taken their toll on working practices, Mr Barker said. "If you're going to do something properly it takes time to do it and it needs more staff to do it. It's inevitable that corners will be cut sometimes."

The vast majority of housing benefit payments made in error are the result of mistakes rather than deliberate fraud on the part of the claimant. However, fraudsters have identified and are now exploiting these loopholes.

One frontline housing worker based at a London council, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had uncovered a large-scale housing benefit fraud executed by claimants who had identified that employment records would not be fully checked if they had demonstrated earnings of only £348 a month – or no more than 16 hours a week in work:
It would appear that nobody in any council does any checks on new housing benefit claims, as long as they have a tenancy agreement and payslip. The claims get passported through without a check as to whether or not the documents are genuine or the landlord's bank details are as claimed, the reason being the Government's requirement for local authorities to show they are processing X amount of claims in a prescribed time.

Double-checking takes time and resources which they don't have. Housing benefit fraud has never been easier.

What irks us council bods is that everyone is facing more job cuts this coming year whilst millions [of pounds] are being wasted because of pressure to perform which results in minimal checks.
The NAO's report revealed that although the number of people claiming housing benefit has risen by 5% since 2010-11, funding provided by the DWP to support councils administering the system had been cut by 17%.

Joe Halewood, a supported housing adviser, said that the pressure on housing benefit staff was not only in large urban councils but also in areas such as Derby and Stoke-on-Trent, where families had been placed after being moved out of central London to avoid the benefit cap – the "housing benefit diaspora".

Gavin Isham, advice services manager at Direct Help and Advice in Derby, said that Derby council was already dealing with huge backlogs meaning his clients' claims were taking at least eight weeks to process:
They have lost a lot of their staff. A lot of people have jumped ship. They have got agency staff in. The Government are also pressuring [staff] to get more back in overpayments. They're overstretched.
A spokesperson for the DWP said overall losses to benefit fraud and error were falling, but added that there was "more to do to crack down on benefit fraud".

The DWP hopes that new IT systems to check housing benefit claims and the rollout of the universal credit system will cut fraud by at least £1.5bn. Mr Barker remains sceptical. "People in local authorities say that the data needs a lot of cleansing. It's a labour-intensive task," he said.

Source

If the DWP wanted to know the real extent of housing benefit fraud, they would conduct a few intensive local exercises to expose it. 

But they don't want to know because they wouldn't be able to handle it nationwide, and the public indignation would damage whichever government was in power.

This is wilful blindness.

19 Oct 2014

Jail for 10 year benefit fraudster

A Bedford fraudster has been handed an 18-month prison sentence for stealing more than £43,000 in housing and council tax benefit.

Emanuella Khamis, formerly of St Michael’s Road in Bedford, appeared at Luton Crown Court for sentencing. She had been held on remand since May after being arrested when she visited Bedford Borough Council’s customer service centre.

Khamis was found guilty of all 18 charges of dishonestly making false representations in order to obtain benefits. She had failed to declare that she held savings of £75,000 in an undeclared bank account and also that this money had been transferred out of the country to an account in Iraq.

The deception was uncovered by the council’s fraud investigations department when a member of the financial assessment team queried how Khamis had managed to purchase her flat in St Michael’s Road while receiving benefits.

The investigation uncovered Khamis’ ISA which had never been declared and that she also received some money following the sale of a property in Baghdad, cash she used to purchase the St Michael’s Road property which was then subsequently sold. Khamis stated that the funds from this sale were sent direct to her brother in Baghdad, which later transpired to be untrue.

In total, Khamis stole £36,777.83 in housing benefit and £6,358.025 in council tax benefit between November 2002 and April 2012.

After failing to attend three hearings – two at Luton Magistrates’ Court and one at Luton Crown Court – a warrant was issued for her arrest. When she was apprehended in May at the council’s customer service centre, Khamis was then remanded in custody until the trial.

Khamis pleaded not guilty and opted for a trial by jury which took place over three days in September. The jury found her guilty on all 18 counts and she was again remanded in custody until sentencing.

In sentencing Khamis, Recorder Cane said:
The explanation given by you was clearly and rightly rejected by the jury. You have shown no remorse and had no engagement with probation services and so will receive an 18-month custodial sentence.
More

17 Oct 2014

Single person benefit fraud - so easy

A benefit cheat who claimed £23,219 from the council and DWP has been caught, sentenced and ordered to pay back the money.

Zoe Adderley, from Warrington, appeared at Chester Crown Court earlier this month and pleaded guilty to three charges of benefits fraud.

Adderley was claiming benefits but failed to inform the council and DWP that she was living with her partner and he was in full time employment.

Adderley had falsely claimed £14135.00 housing benefit and £1663 council tax benefit/ council tax support from the council and £7421 income support from the DWP.

She was handed a 9 month prison sentence which was suspended for 2 years, 120 hours unpaid work and was ordered to repay the overpayments in full.

It's so easy.

16 Oct 2014

Another "single" parent

A Knowsley benefits cheat who falsely claimed more than £76k in benefits has pleaded guilty.

Stephanie Tomlinson, 49, falsely claimed three different types of state benefits for seven years – by pretending to be a single parent.

An investigation by Knowsley Council and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) found that Ms Tomlinson was claiming housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support benefit between 2005 and 2012.

She pleaded guilty at Liverpool Crown Court to four counts of making a false statement or declaration to obtain benefits.

The judge at sentenced Tomlinson to an eight month custodial sentence, concurrent on each count, suspended for two years.

Ms Tomlinson told benefits staff that she was single, lived with her son and that her only income was from benefits.

But it emerged that she lived with a partner who was in work.

The judge said that she only avoided jail because she would have been entitled to £30,000 over the seven year period if she had applied honestly, and also took into account her family circumstances.

The judge also added that “there was no evidence of her using the money to sustain a high level of living.”

More

15 Oct 2014

UK benefits culture

Lord Sugar has called for an end to Britain's benefits culture, claiming Eastern European immigrants see the country as 'the land of milk and honey'. The Labour peer said hard-working people found abuse of the benefits system 'demoralising' and that it needed to be 'sorted out'.

Maybe he's thinking of Cheryl Prudham, mother of 11, who says 'it's easy to claim benefits', and plans bumper Christmas spending £4,000 of taxpayers' cash on children's presents including iPads and gold bracelets. She insists she has a right to the benefits, and it comes after the family enjoyed two-week holiday in Menorca this summer.

14 Oct 2014

Benefit fraud as a family affair

A family of fraudsters have been sentenced for their part in a £90,000 benefit fraud case.

Mother Alison Parfitt, 48, her husband Jason Parfitt, 47, of Sycamore Avenue, Tredegar, and pregnant daughter Gemma Parfitt, 27, of Laburnum Avenue, also Tredegar, were each jailed at Cardiff Crown Court yesterday after seven years of benefit fraud.

Alison Parfitt got an eight-month sentence; Jason Parfitt and Gemma Parfitt seven months each. Stewart Parfitt, 29, of Waundeg, Tredegar, son of Alison and Jason, was given a seven-month suspended sentence for 18 months for falsely claiming £28,000.

The foursome, along with Gemma Parfitt’s partner, Wayne Rees, also of Laburnum Avenue, Tredegar, pleaded guilty to fraud charges on September 5 after being caught following an anonymous tip-off to the Department of Work and Pensions last year.

Rees was given a community order of 14 hours of unpaid work after he claimed jobseekers’ allowance while in employment.

Husband and wife Alison and Jason Parfitt had told the Department of Work and Pensions they were living apart despite sharing a house on Sycamore Avenue.

Between 2006 and 2013 Alison Parfitt received more than £26,000 in income support, housing benefit and council tax rebates thanks to the pair providing false addresses and claiming they were separated, the court heard.

A seize and search raid by the DWP and Gwent Police in March last year discovered the couple at the property, as well as joint credit cards and a joint tenancy.

Daughter Gemma Parfitt, who suffers from epilepsy, also masqueraded as a single person to claim more than £38,000, despite living with partner Wayne Rees.

In police interviews last year, Parfitt, who appeared in court 19 weeks pregnant, denied knowing who the father was and said Rees was just a friend.

A police seize and search operation later found family photos, joint Christmas and birthday cards, financial documents and loan details, all which proved the couple were in a relationship.

Recorder Jonathan Furness QC said: “One of the things that horrifies me is that various members of the family denied paternity of their child in order to further the scheme.I have to sentence five members of the family for a total of 16 offences between them which effectively related to the obtaining of benefits by making false representations. The amount of money which has been obtained by the family as a whole must approach somewhere between £90,000 and £100,000.”

More including pictures

This shows
  1. How easy it is to cheat the benefit fraud system for years

  2. How difficult detection is - this investigation was only started following an anonymous tip-off

  3. How slow the process is and how many hours of officials' time even one case takes.
There's no scope for pro-active detection on the scale needed - benefit fraud officials would be quite overwhelmed. A hopeless case.

13 Oct 2014

Another "single parent" benefit thief

A Shirebrook woman who claimed over £37,000 in benefits she was not entitled to over a three-year period has been given an 18-week prison sentence.

Kirsty Winson, 24, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to falsely claiming benefits she was not entitled to and must also carry out 150 hours of unpaid work in addition to the prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.

A joint investigation by Bolsover District Council and the DWP saw Winson claim Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Income Support as a single parent between January 2010 and October 2013 while she had been living with a partner who was in employment.

She was sentenced at Derby Crown Court on October 3 for dishonestly failing to declare a change in circumstances, contrary to Section 111A(1)(a) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 and also has to repay the amounts she has falsely claimed.

More

More about single parent benefit fraud - see the comments.

10 Oct 2014

Mental problems bring benefit thief light sentence

A benefits cheat changed his name at least 17 times to claim £47,000 in benefits while earning thousands as a lorry driver.

Finn Harvey Schneider, whose other names included Rai River Croft and Zachary Caleb Maxillian, was said to live in a “fantasy world”.

He also amended the names on his driving licence more than a dozen times to commit the “sophisticated” frauds. The 47-year-old would claim benefits in one name but work full-time for a variety of businesses in Leicestershire in other names.

Leicester Crown Court was told Schneider was suffering from mental problems, including a personality disorder, which could have contributed to his criminal behaviour. His original name is believed to have been Raymond Fairclough.

The defendant pleaded guilty to cheating the public revenue out of £42,042 by fraudulently claiming a variety of benefits by using false names, between March 2007 and October 2012. The benefits included a carer’s allowance, job seekers’ allowance, disability living allowance, social fund payments and incapacity benefit. He also admitted failing to notify Oadby and Wigston Borough Council of a change in circumstances, when claiming housing and council tax benefits, totalling £5,088, between April 2009 and October 2012.

He was given a 12-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, with supervision.

The court heard that since his arrest, Schneider had changed his name yet again, to Rai River Croft.

Judge Nicholas Dean QC said
:It seems to some extent you live in a fantasy world relating to your identity. I don’t know if you’re pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes or not, or whether in truth you suffered abuse in childhood, or suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or other disorders, as referred to in the psychiatric report, such as depression and anxiety. It would be inappropriate for me to make a finding that the psychiatric report is wrong. During the period of the charges you were a persistent and really a rather sophisticated fraudster who managed to obtain over £40,000 in benefits you weren’t entitled to. It may be part of your offending is a product of your personality disorder; a product of the person you are, rather than calculated criminality - it’s very hard to say.
Simon Worlock, prosecuting, said: “The Crown traced 17 different names having been used, but not all of those were done during the period of offending. He obtained changes in names on driving licences and got new National Insurance numbers.”

An example of Schneider’s duplicity was in 2009, when he claimed disability living allowance on the basis he was suffering from depression, was awaiting a hip operation, was liable to self-harm, suffered panic attacks and needed a full-time carer, but was also working.

In 2010, he was earning various amounts from a few hundred pounds up to more than £1,000 a week in short-term jobs.

Olwen Davies, mitigating, said Schneider’s mental health issues “go back a long time”, prior to the offending. “His change of names is accounted for by his psychiatric illness,” she said. “He’s suffered poetic justice as officials will only deal with him in his original name of Fairclough, and he no longer has those papers and can’t claim benefits.”

She said he was subject to a “refund system” which means he would be repaying the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) until 2050.

The judge placed Schneider on a Financial Reporting Order, under the 2005 Serious Organised Crime Police Act, for 10 years. It means he must report annually to an officer of the DWP with full details of his income, current P45 or P60 and evidence of his name and address.

More, including a list of names he is known to have used

9 Oct 2014

A reader writes

A comment on Benefit thief mother weeps but is still jailed:
A 'single' parent has 4 children but it's only after a tip off that the partners come to light.

Why not do a few checks when a 'single' parent has a baby and applies for Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits?

Based on the people I know and the claims I have dealt with, I would estimate that half of single parents are not single. Just an estimate, I could be wrong and its, say, 25%.
Then proper checks might save a lot of money very quickly - and properly publicised they could reduce the flow of new false claims, cutting the crime figures too.

What's not to like?