30 Jan 2015

Bassetlaw reveals benefit fraud figures

Benefit fraudsters have been ordered to pay Bassetlaw Council more than £200,000 in the last three years. (h/t Dave) Between 2012 and 2014, the district council successfully prosecuted 49 people for £214,567.91.

Last year, council bosses recovered £52,167.48 from a total of nine cases.

In 2013, Bassetlaw Council recouped £121,753.61 from 27 successful prosecutions.

And in 2012, £40,646.82 was recovered from 13 cases.

Coun Sylvia May, cabinet member for corporate and support services at Bassetlaw District Council, said:
These figures show that we take benefit fraud extremely seriously and will use all the powers we have at our disposal to actively pursue benefit cheats through the legal system. In some cases these prosecutions have resulted in custodial and suspended sentences and, in addition to recouping fines and costs imposed by the courts, we will recover every penny of the £200,000 that has been falsely claimed.
At this stage the amount still owed to Bassetlaw Council in unpaid benefits is unknown.

Coun May added:
Residents may have previously read about these 50 prosecutions in the press; however we hope to report even more successful prosecutions as the council has recently secured additional funding to work even closer with the Department for Work and Pensions. This will allow the council’s dedicated officers to cast the net even wider to uncover other areas of fraud such as Council Tax discounts and insurance claims, which are also on the rise, by using modern, sophisticated detection methods, including the use of systems to trace people who may have moved away.
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Of course we don't know what they didn't notice.

29 Jan 2015

Plans to double benefit fraud administrative penalty

Plans to more than double the maximum administrative penalty that can be offered as an alternative to prosecution for benefit fraud are to be considered by Parliament today.

The changes, if approved by MPs, will mean penalties of up to £5,000 can be issued. This will be in addition to recovery of any money falsely claimed, plus a 4 week loss of benefits. The maximum administrative penalty currently stands at £2,000.

Those suspected of the most serious offences will continue to face prosecution but ministers want the option of a much larger administrative penalty to give enforcement agencies greater flexibility in the way they tackle benefit fraud.

Work and Pensions Minister, Mark Harper, said:
The amount of money lost to benefit fraud stands at some £1.2 billion – cash which otherwise could be spent on supporting those in genuine need, improving public services or reducing people’s taxes. There are still too many people who continue to ignore the warnings and steal from the benefits system. They deserve to pay a heavy price for doing so and that is why we are taking action. I hope this new measure attracts widespread support in the Commons.
The proposed new arrangements will see administrative penalties set at 50% of the benefit an individual has been overpaid, up to the new maximum figure. Therefore, this change will affect cases where a sum of more than £4,000 has been overpaid.

Penalties will only be levied in cases where there would be sufficient evidence to pursue a prosecution for benefit fraud – not in cases of genuine mistakes or error.

DWP’s existing debt recovery processes will continue, meaning penalties and overpayments can be recovered from benefits, deducted from earnings or reclaimed through other means.

Going to court brings unwelcome publicity and a criminal record. But at the lower end, these administrative penalties are more serious than the sentences the courts hand out - assuming, of course, that the money is collected, which (let us say) doesn't always happen.

28 Jan 2015

£500 fine for blue badge fraud

A ST Clears man has been prosecuted for forging a Blue Badge to allow him privileges only reserved for drivers with severely restricted mobility. (h/t Dave)

Cledan David, aged 54, pleaded guilty to the offence, contrary to s.115(1) of the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984, at Carmarthen Magistrates' Court.

He was ordered to pay a fine of £500, with £54 costs and a £50 victim surcharge.

It is the first time Carmarthenshire Council has successfully prosecuted someone for Blue Badge fraud.

Cllr Colin Evans, executive board member for transport, said: “Blue Badges are an important parking concession for disabled people that helps to improve their quality of life - any abuse of that privilege is taken very seriously. This is the first time we have prosecuted someone for forging a Blue Badge, but it sends a clear message that such fraud is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988, the maximum fine for misusing a Blue Badge is £5,000 or two years imprisonment.

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£53k benefit fraud brings 100 hours of unpaid work

A Tavistock grandmother who conned councils out of more than £50,000 in benefits has been given a suspended prison sentence.

Elizabeth Hart, aged 66, repeatedly lied on claim forms to hide her ownership of a house, a court heard.

Hart, who moved around the country, falsely claimed £53,000 in housing benefit and council tax relief over more than five years. She pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud by false representation.

She dishonestly failed to declare while making claims that she owned a house in Spring Hill in the town.

Hart tricked West Devon Borough Council, North Cornwall District Council and Brighton and Hove Council in Sussex, the court heard.

Sarah Vince, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said a Proceeds of Crime Act application would be made to recover her ill-gotten gains.

Jo Martin, for Hart, said she would have to sell the house to meet the claim.

She added she had never lived in the Spring Hill house but had rather allowed her son and her grandchildren to live there. Because she never charged rent, her son in turn did not claim housing benefit.

Miss Martin said: “She certainly has not been living the high life. The sale of her house will be an additional punishment. She could go to prison for six to eight months or she could do useful work in the community.”

The court heard that she had struggled to cope after her 25-year-old son Troy committed suicide in 2004.

Recorder Robert Pawson handed her a six-month prison sentence but suspended it for two years. She must do 100 hours unpaid work and was ordered to take part in a women-specific course.

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27 Jan 2015

Compensation order against Tadcaster benefits thief

Thanks to Dave, we can catch up on the case of Paul Burnett, who was jailed in September for benefit fraud.

A benefits fraudster who “hijacked” the identities of two dead friends has been ordered to repay more than £140,000 or face a further 18 months behind bars.

Paul Burnett, of Tadcaster, was jailed for three years last September after he admitted a complex benefits scam which lasted 17 years and netted him around £220,000 from the Department for Work and Pensions and councils across the North of England including Calderdale, Kirklees, Bradford and Selby.

Burnett’s web of deceit included the use of false tenancy agreements and fake documentation, but his cruellest scam involved using the details of a friend who died in a drowning accident in Greece in 1996.

Prosecutor Emma Downing told Bradford Crown Court last year that when the family of Michael Wells were contacted by the DWP about benefits claims for a house in Bradford his sister thought he may still be alive and that a mistake had been made at the time of his death.

In a victim impact statement Carolyn Eyre said the inquiry had give the family “a small flutter of hope” and Burnett’s offending had led to her father grieving all over again.

Burnett, 45, was arrested in 2013 after Ian Wright, an old school friend, returned to England from Australia to find that his identity had been used to claim various benefits including housing and council tax benefit on a house in Alabama Street, Halifax.

Mr Wright had emigrated to Australia in 1993 and Miss Downing said from 1996 until August last year Burnett had meticulously planned and orchestrated a campaign of deception and dishonesty in order to claim state benefits to which he was not entitled.

The court heard that Burnett, a father-of-one, had also used the identity of another friend, Michael Gilmartin, who had died in a motorcycle accident in Leeds in 1988.

While posing as Mr Wright during visits by council officials to Alabama Street Burnett also claimed that Mr Gilmartin was the landlord of the property.

In total Burnett fraudulently obtained housing and council tax benefits totalling just over £42,000 for Alabama Street and a further £4,600 in similar benefits for another property at Heather Bank in Todmorden.

He also obtained housing benefit and council tax benefit totalling almost £9,500 in relation to Buxton House in Huddersfield.

Burnett also claimed various benefits in his own name without declaring his true financial position and used the identity of his own uncle who had lived in France since 1991.

The defendant admitted a series of offences including fraud, making dishonest representations to obtain benefits and obtaining services by deception.

His barrister Stephen Wood conceded that Burnett now faced an inevitable prison sentence and said his client had “been seduced by greed”.

The court heard that Burnett had kept detailed diaries with information relating to each of the false identities and Judge Jonathan Rose noted that he had in effect been caught by accident after Mr Wright’s return to England.

The judge said it was an aggravating feature of the case that Burnett’s crimes had brought back raw and hurtful memories for the families of the men who had lost their lives many years ago.

Following an investigation into Burnett’s financial affairs under the Proceeds of Crime Act Judge Colin Burn on Wednesday declared that the defendant had benefitted to the tune of £331,847.67 from his offending and that he should repay £142,645.11 from his available assets.

Burnett will have six months to pay back the money, most of which will be used as compensation to the DWP.

It is understood that his assets include equity in his home in Tadcaster and the house at Alabama Street, Halifax, and various amounts of money in bank and building society accounts.

At the time of Burnett’s sentencing Nicola Wheeler, Unit Head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s Serious Fraud Division said: “This is an appalling case of professional benefit fraud, meticulously planned and carried out over nearly two decades.

“From 1996 to the date of his arrest in April 2013 Paul Burnett orchestrated a campaign of deception and dishonesty on an industrial scale in order to claim over £220,000 in a range of state benefits to which he was not entitled. He not only dishonestly claimed state benefits in his own name, but also hijacked the identities of a number of other people, who were targeted by the defendant because he knew that they had either died or had emigrated from England to live abroad.”

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Benefit cheat facing losing his home

A benefit cheat fiddled more than £11,200 in wrongful payments by keeping quiet that he had received a £23,000 pension lump sum, a court heard.

Graham Cook, 65, from Scunthorpe, admitted dishonestly obtaining benefits.

Simon Hirst, prosecuting, told Grimsby Crown Court that he received a pension credit between January 2011 and March last year after saying he was not working and had no other income.

He declared in January 2011 that the information was correct, but it was discovered that he had received a £23,000 pension lump sum in February 2011.

The amount he received varied from £287 a month to £309.

He was interviewed in February last year and admitted he knew the pension credit was means-tested and that any savings would affect what he received.

He confessed: "I have been found out. I hold my hands up."

The total amount he was wrongly paid was £11,229.

Ian Haywood, mitigating, said all the money wrongly paid to Cook had been spent. He was facing losing his home.

Cook was given 175 hours' unpaid work.

Judge Graham Robinson told Cook: "You are categorised as a benefit fraudster."

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26 Jan 2015

Glamour model fiddled £44k in benefits

A glamour model fraudulently claimed more than £40,000 in benefits including disability allowance - while starring in a Playboy film, a court heard.

Julia Martinez, 43, said she was too sick to work, but was earning money in photo shoots and movies.

She kept a diary saying she was "'very lucky" to "own her house, was slim and attractive and to have a benefit system that allows me to live comfortably".

Martinez claimed more than £44,000 in benefits while working as an actor and running a successful photography company and a modelling career.

She pleaded guilty to several counts of fraud after claiming she was too ill to work.

The seven counts of fraud related to income support, council tax and disability living allowance.

She made several false representations and even went to the lengths of changing her name or sending money to Spain to avoid getting caught.

George Threlfall, prosecuting, told how Martinez loved money, whether earned or received through benefits, with some of her claims made as early as 2008.

He said: "Her diary is a fascinating insight into someone who was clearly obsessed by money, making it both honestly and dishonestly. She said the benefit system was fair game. Miss Martinez has done her best to cover her tracks, by using aliases and transferring money from the UK to Spain. She works as a model or as a photographer. She had her own businesses, one of which was called Shoot the Bride. There was a sister company called Shoot the Moon. We also seized a DVD. It was clear she had acted in a Playboy DVD."

At an earlier hearing, Martinez, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, pleaded guilty to five of the seven counts, with her most recent plea coming on the day her trial was meant to begin.

Martinez's income support claims amounted to £27,908.67, her disability claim to £14,112 and her council tax relief claim to £2,178.63, equalling £44,199.30.

Rob Lancaster, mitigating, said how his client had a history of mental health and was trying to get away from an abusive and horrid past.

He said: "Miss Martinez has suffered serious depression since her 20s, long before she made her first claim. She was trying to take steps to move forward with her life. These steps should have been disclosed. The fact is that she was someone trying to get away from benefits, not live a life on them."

Mr Lancaster told the court that when she was told she could not have children in 2005, it hit her hard - with Martinez reaching her lowest point in 2008.

He said: "She suffered abuse as a child - both physically and mentally. She is a lady who has always sought the help of others to improver herself. Her life goal was to have children. It took her right back to when she was young. Up to that point, she had never made a benefit claim."

Martinez pleaded to one count of making false representations when claiming income support and one count of failing to update the DWP on her change of situation.

She also pleaded guilty to one count of falsely claiming disability allowance and two counts of claiming she was entitled to council tax relief.

Judge William Hart sentenced her to a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.

Martinez may have to pay a fine, but that could not be decided at the hearing and will be dealt with in June.

Judge Hart said: "The view the crown takes of you and the one your friends, family and defence do, is like two different people being spoken of. That often happens on a fraud case that the crown sees someone who has cheated the system. The defence see the reason someone finds themselves in that position. It often lies somewhere between those extremes. You are undoubtedly a woman who combines disabilities and abilities. I suspect the affect of all this is you never want to see the inside of a court again."

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23 Jan 2015

Judge punishes housing benefit fraud

A benefit fraudster who claimed thousands she was not entitled to has been order to repay all her ill-gotten gains.

Elisabete Bacanhim, 38, formerly of Chalford Close, West Molesey, pleaded guilty to two benefit fraud offences against the council.

Bacanhim had left the house she was claiming benefits for and not told Elmbridge Council, so continued to get £2,569 of housing benefit she was not entitled to.

At Guildford Crown Court the Judge ordered she should complete 100 hours of unpaid work, repay all overpayments and make a contribution of £600 toward costs, to be paid off at £20 a week.

Councillor James Browne, cabinet member for housing, said:
While the overwhelming majority of our benefit claimants are honest I hope this serves as another reminder of the importance of promptly notifying the council of a change in circumstances. Keeping housing benefit in this way amounts to theft and the council will not hesitate to prosecute those who act dishonestly.
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22 Jan 2015

Another state worker fiddles her tax credits

Following on from yesterday's report about a government employee fiddling her tax credits, here is another one.

This civil servant fraudulently claimed more than £86,000 in benefits by lying about her personal circumstances. She has been jailed.

Bolanle Shote, 41, from Basildon, pretended she was a single parent despite having lived with her partner for nearly a decade.

The former HM Revenue and Customs worker made multiple false claims for tax credits.

Cheryl Turton, Senior Manager for HMRC, said:
Tax credits are designed to support those hard-working families who most need extra financial support. What makes this fraud even more despicable is that Shote was employed by HMRC and knew full well that lying about her personal circumstances was fraud. She went to great lengths to hide her true situation from her colleagues and employer. Offences of this nature are taken very seriously by HMRC and now she has lost her job, her good name and has a criminal record.
Shote, a mother of three, was sentenced to eight months in prison during an appearance at Basildon Crown Court.

She claimed tax credits as a single parent from February 2003 until August 2012, when she changed her claim and told HMRC her husband had moved in with her.

Suspicions were raised after it emerged she had made joint mortgage and loan applications during the nine year period.

Shote resigned from HMRC in November 2013 - nine months before she was charged with dishonestly claiming tax credits.

She pleaded guilty to ten offences and repaid the full amount before being sentenced.

Addressing Shote, judge Ian Graham said: “This was a fraud from the outset which continued for over eight years and this, together with the amount involved, means that I have no option but to impose an immediate custodial sentence.”

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21 Jan 2015

Benefits clerk fiddled tax credits

A benefits clerk employed to check for bogus claims cheated £50,000 in state handouts after running up debts with payday lenders Wonga. (h/t A Reader)

Caroline Bryon, from Hyde, worked for the Department of Work and Pensions, checking that claims for tax credits were genuine.

But she was secretly fiddling working tax credits and child tax credits herself.

Manchester Crown Court heard mum-of-two Bryon, 34, lied about her childcare costs - claiming they were double what they were - and lied about paying for childcare even when she was on maternity leave.

She also hid the fact that she was living with a partner who was working, racking up £50,344 in overpayments in just two years.

After Bryon’s own claims came under scrutiny from her employers she was sacked, arrested, and pleaded guilty to four charges of fraud by false representation between 2009 and 2011.

But she was spared jail after her defence barrister said locking her up would be ‘catastrophic’ for her two children.

He said her offences happened because she had been drinking heavily, had run up debts to payday lenders, and needed her own means after starting a relationship with a new man.

Jonathan Rogers, prosecuting, said: “The defendant worked for the DWP, processing and checking claims for exactly the type of benefit she was overpaid. One of her childcare providers stated that she asked her to say she had paid her almost double what she had in fact in paid and to backdate it. (Bryon) will have known what checks might be carried out because she carried them out herself.”

Andrew Evans, defending, argued there was ‘no evidence’ she had used her knowledge of the system for personal gain. A trail of documents and emails sent from her work account revealed she was living with her new partner, and showed there was’ no thought or sophistication whatsoever’ to her offence, he added.

“The reason why a 34-year-old lady sits in this court for the first time stem from debt - we have the name Wonga appearing predominantly - we have interest rates of 4000 per cent, we have a debt spiral”, Mr Evans added.

Sentencing her to 14 months, suspended for two years, with 200 hours unpaid work and a requirement to attend a women’s project, Recorder Andrew Thomas QC said her offence was ‘aggravated’ by her job, and that she had cheated her ‘colleagues, friends and neighbours - decent people who work hard and have to pay taxes.’

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