28 Aug 2014

Tip-off identifies illegal sub-letting

A Cheltenham woman who worked abroad and unlawfully sublet her flat has lost her tenancy.

Guinness Hermitage took possession of its property in Lansdown Crescent, Montpellier, after hearing the women who rented the property was not in the country.

The affordable housing provider was given an anonymous tip-off on the Gloucestershire Tenancy Fraud Forum website.

Staff then found that the property was advertised on a Cheltenham lettings website. Interviews with local residents confirmed that the tenant had moved abroad and that the two-bed flat was being sublet.

After several attempts to contact the tenant, staff were able to confirm that she was currently living abroad.

As she was in breach of her tenancy, and to avoid legal action, she made the decision to hand in her keys.


26 Aug 2014

Prison for repeat benefit thief

A woman who failed to declare her dead husband’s pension while claiming benefits has been jailed. (h/t Dave)

Alice Boyle, 54, pocketed more than £57,000 she was not entitled to, Newcastle Crown Court heard.

Boyle, also known as Edgar, had begun claiming income support legitimately in 1993. But after her husband died, she started receiving up to £500 a month from his pension from former employer, ICI, in Teesside.

Boyle failed to inform the authorities and kept claiming hand-outs. She also made a claim for housing benefit and council tax benefit in 2009 and again failed to disclose the pension.

Boyle pleaded guilty to four counts of benefit fraud. Jailing her for five months, Judge Sean Morris told her:
This was unadulterated dishonesty. You have defrauded the public purse out of tens of thousands of pounds. I cannot overlook the fact a form of deterrence must be part of this kind of sentencing hearing. There are people in this country who desperately need help, it’s not a free for all.
The court heard Boyle had a previous conviction from the 1980s for benefit fraud. Judge Morris said:
You have a previous conviction for benefit fraud from a long time ago, when you got a suspended prison sentence. It may have been a long time ago but you would not have forgotten it. You knew what you were doing when you did this and you knew it was wrong.
The court heard Boyle started receiving her husband’s pension in 1998. By the time the fraud came to light, she had received a total of £57,840.85 she was not entitled to.

Christopher Morrison, defending, said Boyle, also previously convicted of neglecting her dog, has a drink problem. Mr Morrison said: “She is not a well woman at all and suffers from alcoholism. Her benefits were stopped in 2012 and she has not had a penny since. She lives on the pension, which is now £500 a month but which was less in the past.”

So her benefits were stopped in 2012 but the guilty plea wasn't heard until August 2014. Detecting benfit fraud is labour intensive. No wonder they can't keep up.

25 Aug 2014

Light sentence for fugitive benefit thief

A benefits cheat who falsely claimed £26,000 was arrested at an airport after failing to attend a court hearing. (h/t Dave)

So he's going to be punished for that, isn't he? Hm....

Reginald Jacobson, 65, had dodged investigators for three years until his arrest at Leeds Bradford airport in March.

Jacobson, from Hull, had been working for ten different employers while claiming benefits.

A warrant for his arrest was initially issued in 2011 after he failed to answer a summons requiring him to attend a court hearing in Hull.

He has now been given a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, after pleading guilty to two charges of benefit fraud, and must pay back the money he falsely claimed.

Yes, that'll happen.

Hull Crown Court heard how he dishonestly claimed almost £26,000 in benefits payments over a six-year period between 2004 and 2010.

During that time, he received £10,507 in housing and council tax benefits and a further £15,259 in income support, pension credit and incapacity benefit that he was not entitled to.

While claiming for all the benefits, he failed to declare earnings from ten different employers.

In addition to his suspended prison sentence, Jacobson was made the subject of a 12-month supervision order and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid community work.

He also faces having to pay £100 towards the cost of the case brought jointly by Hull City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions and will undergo treatment for alcoholism.


22 Aug 2014

Mayor stole benefits

A town mayor who claimed he could barely walk to claim benefits has been spared jail.

Brian Griffin, 76, was caught on film conning taxpayers out of £13,000 when he was filmed by fraud surveillance teams marching more than a mile on a Remembrance Day parade.

The pensioner had previously denied one count of failing to properly notify the Department of Work and Pensions of a change in circumstances. He was found guilty on July 21 after a two-day trial. Now District Judge Morris Cooper has given him an eight-week jail term, suspended for six months at Nottingham Magistrates' Court. He was also ordered to pay £300 costs. He said Griffin was only saved from time in prison because of his previous good character, age and medical problems.

He added that Griffin - who is still an Eastwood Town councillor - had presented him with a 'paradox' because he had carried out charitable and voluntary work and had never been in trouble before.

Griffin, who was injured in a fall in 1997, first claimed the highest level of disability living allowance in 2003 after suffering from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. But the pensioner failed to tell the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) his health had improved, merely stating on claim forms in 2010 and 2012 that the condition 'varies'. A court heard that between June 3, 2009 and January 29, 2013 he received £13,448.95 in disability living allowance after claiming he could not walk more than 10 metres.

Wayne Wallis, prosecuting, told the hearing that Griffin said his walking was 'limited to 10 metres, his balance and confidence outdoors were a constant problem, and he had to use crutches and a walking stick.'

He was caught out when he was filmed by undercover investigators marching to lay a wreath at a war memorial on Armistice Day in 2012 while he was the mayor of Eastwood, in Nottinghamshire. A court heard that Griffin was fit enough to carry out 130 duties in just one year as mayor. He was also spotted standing for two hours selling poppies at Ikea, helping a friend fix a roof and working on his allotment. Griffin had a season ticket at Nottingham Forest FC in the higher part of a stands' upper tier and was an active member of a bowls club in the town.

Mr Wallis said Griffin's cover was blown when an outraged member of the public anonymously tipped off the DWP.

Cover? What cover? It was all in plain sight.

A fraud investigation team carried out undercover surveillance between September and November 2012 and caught Griffin on video performing tasks he had stated on his claim form he was unable to do.

Mr Wallis said: 'He was seen to walk over 1,800 metres on the Remembrance Day parade while carrying a wreath, and remained on his feet the whole time.'

Griffin, who was mayor of Eastwood twice, in 2010-11 and 2012-13, had claimed DWP investigators caught him 'on a good day' when they filmed him at the procession.

Giving evidence during his trial, he said: 'I was an active member of the community, my injury stopped that. It was a fall down some small steps and I thought I was OK. I try to walk because the doctors told me if I don't I will lose my leg, but I suffer later for it. Remembrance was one of my good days. I made the effort to go and suffered for it later. I have been forced to miss it in the past.'

His benefits were taken away from him when he was reassessed by a doctor last year and he is now repaying the cash.

Jessica Vogel, defending, said: 'He accepts he had carried out all these activities but did say the pain never goes away. He did say he feels ashamed at being 77 and having his first conviction. He made the initial claim on the basis he couldn't walk more than 10 metres. When he filled in the form in 2010 and 2012 he did change the description to 'varies'. He thought that would be sufficient notification but at trial it was found he should have made it more clear. He no longer claims any benefits and as a result of all this he is never likely to again. It is unlikely he will ever be before the court again. He has been paying back the money for some time.'

Speaking after the case, DWP fraud manager Paul Baggaley said: 'It is our duty to ensure that benefit payments go to those who really need them and we are committed to cracking down on those who play the system. Our welfare reforms are vital to close the gaps that cheats take advantage of.'

20 Aug 2014

Sentence deferred on benefit thief

Unemployed Shaun Phillimore, 44, raked in Job Seeker's Allowance and council tax benefits for more than four years. Yet all the time he owned three properties and kept two of them secret from the DWP.

A court heard he was not entitled to the hand-outs because he had capital assets of more than £16,000. James Haskell, prosecuting, said Phillimore claimed Job Seeker's Allowance on the basis he wasn't working and had no capital assets other than his home. He said: "He wasn't entitled to the allowance and between July 2009 and February 2013 he was paid £30,000 Job Seeker's Allowance which he wasn't entitled to." As well as the £30,000 over the four year period Phillimore also claimed nearly £5,000 in council tax benefit.

Phillimore, of Hanham, Bristol admitted two counts of fraud and Bristol Crown Court heard that he had already repaid some of the money he falsely claimed. Judge Martin Picton ordered Phillimore to repay the rest and deferred his sentencing until November.

He told him: "You can pay £19,000 and commence making payments as indicated. Come back and custody will be suspended rather than immediate."

People who claim benefits when they have assets over the limit should have to repay twice their fraudulent claim. Hit them in the pocket! - it was money that motivated their crime, after all.

19 Aug 2014

A Saltash woman has been jailed for 10 months after she admitted fraudulently claiming £80,000 of benefits over a nine year period. (h/t VNCounterFraud)

Julie Foster, of Babis Farm Close, Saltash pleaded guilty at Truro Crown Court to nine offences relating to claims for housing benefit and council tax benefit made both in Cornwall and Leicestershire and a claim to Income Support.

The court was told that Foster had claimed she was a single mother living in rented accommodation when, in fact, she lived with her partner Stephen O’Neill in a property he owned. The offences ranged from making false claims, failing to notify of changes in circumstance and the production of false tenancy agreements to be used in the fraud.

Prosecutor Julia Cox, told the court Foster had submitted fraudulent claims over a nine year period.

In mitigation, her advocate Ramsey Quaife, said Foster had submitted a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity and had assisted with the investigation by giving evidence for the Crown. He said she was formerly of good character and had two dependent daughters.

Sentencing Foster to ten months imprisonment Judge Harvey-Clarke said she had deliberately engaged in fraudulent activity and, despite receiving a large inheritance of £100,000 part way though, decided to continue the fraud rather than telling the local authority. He said she had also made no expression of regret or remorse.

He said that while he had sympathy for her daughters, the level of offending meant he could not suspend the sentence. He had, however reduced his original intention to sentence her to 20 months imprisonment by five months as a result of her assistance to the Crown and a further five months for her early guilty pleas.

He said the final sentence of 10 months imprisonment reflected her deliberate acts which had occurred at the expense of the public authorities over a number of years which has resulted in a substantial loss to those public authorities.

A spokesman for Cornwall Council said they operated a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to fraud and corruption.


18 Aug 2014

Two generations of benefit fraudsters cheated £160k from the public purse

Two generations of benefit fraudsters cheated £160,000 in public funds. (h/t VNCounterFraud)

Businessman Denis Tracey, 64, appeared in the same dock as his son David and his partner Cheryl Patterson.

Denis Tracey’s daughter Victoria and her partner Andrew Kenny were also present, after serving nine months each for similar offences, to hear about confiscation proceedings against them.

Stuart Mills, prosecuting, said David Tracey, 36, and Cheryl Henwood, 33, pretended he was her landlord when they made claims for council tax and housing benefit but they were in a relationship and even had a son together.

Patterson also claimed income support, jobseekers allowance and tax credits which she was not allowed while living at their home on Macketts Lane, Woolton.

At one point Tracey even increased the “rent” she owed him so the council had to pay out more.

David Tracey tried to lie his way out of an interview saying they were “close friends” despite the fact there was evidence they had been on a £5,000 Royal Caribbean cruise together before coming clean and admitting they were together.

The total value of their false claims were £89,654.

They pleaded guilty to fraud offences related to council tax and housing tax benefits while Patterson also admitted further counts related to failure to notify a change in circumstances and claims for income support, council tax and housing benefits.

They were jailed for 12 months despite pleas that David Tracey would lose a good job and their three children would have to be looked after by his elderly parents.

Their’s was a virtual copycat case of David Tracey’s sister Victoria and her partner Andrew Kenny, who also lived on Macketts Lane and were convicted of a £55,000 benefit fraud which they used to fund a lavish lifestyle.

David Tracey’s father Denis, of Quickswood Green, Woolton, owned the houses that both couples lived in and was dishonestly receiving money from the council when he knew his daughter was not a single parent, and was receiving money from the council for his son’s property in error but failed to tell anyone.

The value of those frauds was £14,123 which he has now paid back.

He was told to pay a £1,500 fine and £500 costs.

Judge Robert Warnock told him: “My goodness you have found out the hard way what dishonesty can bring upon you and your family.”


14 Aug 2014

Jail for mosque committee man in £140k benefits fraud

A Bedford man been jailed for 16 months for stealing almost £140,000 in benefits over 14 years.

Alas Miah was sentenced at Luton Crown Court after admitting seven offences relating to benefit fraud spanning 14 years from 1998 to 2012. In total, he had claimed £137,572 in housing benefit, council tax benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance that he was not entitled to.

The court heard that when Miah first made a claim for housing and council tax benefit from Bedford Borough Council in 1998 he declared that he had no savings or investments.

However, following a tip-off from a member of the public, investigators from Bedford Borough Council and the Department for Work and Pensions discovered that at the time he made the claim he owned a commercial property at 33 Brook Street in Raunds, and also held a valuable insurance policy. Miah gave the property to his son in February 2000 but this did not prevent the value of the property from being taken into account for the purpose of his benefit claim. A further hearing in October this year will consider whether the property should be confiscated as a proceed of crime.

In his defence, his barrister argued that Miah was a man of otherwise good character who had not enjoyed a lavish lifestyle as a result of his crime. He was also of good standing in the community and was chairman of the funeral committee at the local mosque.

In sentencing him to prison, the Judge made it clear that “the amount of money and time make this so serious that only immediate imprisonment is needed”. Miah must serve at least half the sentence in prison and the rest on licence in the community. If he reoffends he will serve the full sentence. He will also have to repay all the money he stole from taxpayers.


13 Aug 2014

Benefit thief stole £70k while running £2.6m property empire

A benefit cheat who fleeced the taxpayer out of out of more than £70,000 while running £2.6 million property empire and raking in £150,000 a year in rents has been jailed. (h/t Dave)

Seema Bassi, 49, claimed she was a jobless single mother to pocket handouts for more than a decade. But she was secretly amassing an impressive property portfolio across Kent and bringing in a fortune from tenants, Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.

Bassi owned 26 homes worth a total of £2.6million, providing her with about £150,000 in rent a year. She bought her first property in 1994 and started claiming benefits three years later. Her portfolio included 14 flats and four houses in Gravesend, a house in Canterbury, three flats in Herne Bay, a two-bedroom terrace in Greenhithe, and a house in Richmond Street, Hartlepool, Cleveland.

Some of the properties were leased to Gravesham Council in Kent as sheltered housing for asylum seekers, the court heard. Her fraud was uncovered after Gravesham Council started investigating her brother for failing to pay council tax in 2012. The paper trail led investigators to contact Redbridge Council for more details about Bassi when they learned she had purchased 18 houses from her brother.

Stacks of documents were seized from Bassi's home in Ilford, including bank statements and tenancy agreements. It was discovered she had told mortgage lenders she earned £69,200 annually working for a property firm, but was still telling the council she was unemployed.

In total the mother-of-one pocketed £67,819 in housing benefits and £6,118 council tax benefits.

Questioned by police she first said the properties were held in trust for different members of her extended family, although no evidence was found to prove that such a trust existed. She then claimed the 18 properties that had previously belonged to her brother had been put in her name because he was unwell and could no longer manage them. Bassi maintained she didn't profit financially from any of the homes, and said she did not consider herself to be their owner.

It emerged Bassi set up a new property firm called Overcliffe Residents Company last year.

Bassi, of Ilford, Essex, denied but was convicted of five counts of fraud after a trial earlier this year. Judge David Radford sentenced her to 12 months jail.

He told her:
You dishonestly and protractedly obtained public money that is made available to those who are genuinely in need. This was a substantially benefit fraud persisting over many years.

12 Aug 2014

£39k benefit thief has to sell home to repay debt

We noted that the aptly named Dawn Pinchen got off lightly for a £39,000 benefit fraud in April, but she has now been back in court for a "proceeds of crime" hearing (h/t Dave), having so far repaid just over £1,000.

The report is confusing, as it states that already "she has been forced to sell her house in order to repay the money she fraudulently claimed". (This, by the way, is presumably the house where she lives with her husband.)

This is a different Judge from the original hearing. who seems to have been more robust:
Judge Robert Adams said the rest of the cash she was fraudulently paid must be given back within six months or she will be jailed.

The judge told her: “There will be a period of 18 months in custody if payment is not made within six months.”

The court heard Pinchen will have £88,388 in assets once the sale of her home goes through and it is from that she will pay back the remaining £38,074 she owes.
Here, at least, is a deterrent.