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23 May 2019

Council house fraudster told to pay almost £40k

A woman who narrowly avoided jail after falsely gaining a council house has been ordered to pay costs of almost £40,000.

Annet Nemah Umuzia Cox failed to disclose her status as a homeowner when applying for council housing with Dudley Council.

She pleaded guilty to housing fraud in December, when she was sentenced to six months custody, suspended for 12 months.

Dudley Council have since taken further court action, and bosses are ordering Cox to pay a confiscation order for £39,883.30 – with £34,407.50 to be paid as compensation to the council.

Cox provided a false housing application to gain access to a Dudley Council property, which the council made specific adaptations amounting to £29,439.70.

The council also paid the rent, £2,078.37, and council tax, £399.84, at the property whilst it was being adapted due to it taking some time to undertake the adaptations.

When Cox moved into the property, her owned property was then rented out privately creating an income of £5,240.

Had she declared her correct circumstances, Cox would not have been eligible for a Dudley Council tenancy.

Alan Lunt, deputy chief executive and strategic director for place, said: "Housing fraud is a very serious matter and those who are tempted to try and cheat the system should be reminded that we will investigate and pursue thoroughly all instances of wrongdoing.

"Our priority is rightly focused upon those who are most deserving and we will continue to help those who are most in need of council housing."

Failure for Cox to pay could result in imprisonment. She is no longer a council tenant.

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20 May 2019

Benefits agencies are 'overburdened and have over-stretched resources'

A benefits cheat has been ordered to pay back nearly £88,000 she wrongly claimed while living in Spain, but not until the year 2977.

Jayne Kitching, 53, is paying back the amount she defrauded at a rate of just £7.65 per month, Grimsby Crown Court has heard.

At the rate agreed by the Department of Work and Pensions and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, it would take 958 and a half years, or up to the year 2977.

Based upon the average life expectancy of 80 for a Grimsby woman, that could leave a total of £84,683 unpaid.

In court the mother of two admitted cheating the public revenue between July 2013 and August 2016.

She obtained income support, disability living allowance and carer's allowance having failed to tell authorities she had moved to Spain.

Kitching also admitted taking tax credit from HMRC between September 2013 and April 2017 and failing to failing to let agencies in the UK know that her children had been taken into care in Spain.

Prosecuting Nigel Clive said she claimed the benefits while living in Spain with her children. She did not tell agencies in the UK she had moved abroad.

Mr Clive said her children were taken from her and placed in the care of local authorities in Spain.

He said: 'The money she claimed was used for ordinary day-to-day living costs and to pay Spanish legal teams over her childcare claims. There was no lavish lifestyle.'

The children were not returned to her until April 2017 and the prosecutor said she has so far paid back £400.

He said: 'She gets £2,000-a-month now. She is repaying at £7.65 per month and there is no indication that she has any form of assets.'

The court was told she is the registered carer for one of her teenage children.

For Kitching, Craig Lowe said his client 'cuts a disconsolate and pathetic' figure.

He said: 'She is not the most intelligent of individuals and there was no prospect of success. It was only a matter of time before she was caught.'

Recorder Abdul Iqbal QC questioned why authorities had not detected her claiming benefits while living in Spain. He asked: 'How would they know if she was living in Doncaster, or Grimsby or Malaga?'

Mr Clive said she had posted on Facebook how much she was looking forward to moving to Spain with her two teenage children and said the DWP had been tipped off.

Recorder Iqbal imposed a 12-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months.

He said he was doing so as 'an act of mercy towards her children' and to avoid them having to be taken into care. He said: 'I hope you are thoroughly ashamed of your dishonesty.'

He added benefits agencies in the UK are 'overburdened and have over-stretched resources' which she had taken from dishonestly.

Kitching has also been ordered to undergo 20 days of rehabilitation.

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17 May 2019

Repeat benefit fraudster must repay ... £10

A bakery worker who creamed off more than £20,000 from her employer has been ordered to pay back just £10 of her ill-gotten gains.

Joan Whitrick, who cooked the books at Just Desserts in Station Road, Shipley, had been told by Judge Colin Burn when she was sentenced in January that the cash would have to be paid back “even if it takes you the rest of your days to do it”.

But yesterday the 58-year-old was ordered to repay just £10 after she assured the Recorder of Bradford, Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC, that she was not “sitting on a fortune or living in a mansion” and that she could afford “£10 and that’s it”.

Whitrick, from Keighley, had been sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, with 300 hours of unpaid work.

Yesterday, she was back in court for a Proceeds of Crime Application hearing in which the benefit from her criminality was assessed at £21,498.

But the grandmother, who was not legally represented, said she had no available assets with which to meet that bill.

Jonathan Sharp, for the Crown, told the court a nominal sum of £10 should be fixed for repayment.

The court was told by a financial investigator that although Whitrick was sentenced for taking £20,105 from her employer, a “cost of living” increase had racked up her benefit figure to £21,498.

Judge Durham Hall made the confiscation order, telling Whitrick: “I am happy to draw a line under this today. If you win the Pools or the Lottery, a lady like this financial investigator here might come knocking.”

He asked Whitrick if she could afford £10, to which she replied: “£10 and that’s it.”

Judge Durham Hall told her to own up now if she was “sitting on a fortune or living in a mansion somewhere”. “I sometimes get such applications and find they have got 15 houses,” he said.

Whitrick, who told the court she is in work, must pay the £10 within 28 days or risk a day in prison in default.

In January, the court heard how she was an office administrator at the award-winning craft bakery when she stole from it over a two-year period to fund her gambling habit.

She was originally charged with stealing £50,500 from her employer, between May, 2011, and July, 2016, but her plea of guilty to the lesser amount was accepted by the crown following a thorough investigation by financial experts.

Prosecutor Andrew Horton said Whitrick joined the company, that was formed in 1985, in May, 2011.

She failed to tell her employer that she was a convicted benefit cheat who was given a suspended sentence of imprisonment in 2008 for stealing £3,000 while working as a book-keeper at Richmond Upholstery in Keighley.

Mr Horton said that Whitrick’s dishonesty at Just Desserts was revealed by an audit in May 2016. Suspicion fell upon her and her previous convictions were uncovered.

Whitrick took small amounts of cash to put into her bank account. “It was £60 here and £190 there,” Mr Horton told the court.

She “palmed” cash sums from customers and drivers. The sums were marked as “paid” but the company did not receive the money. It was conceded during the sentencing hearing that Whitrick had a serious gambling problem, losing £21,273 during her time at Just Desserts.

After she was dismissed, she texted her bosses to say sorry and to ask them to keep the police out of the matter. She also pledged to pay back the money.

A report from the firm, that employs 25 people, said it had continued to trade profitably but the theft had forced it to tighten up on pay rises and bonuses.

Imran Khan, Whitrick’s barrister, said she was now working as a sales manager for a different company and had earned promotion in the role.

As well as a suspended sentence and unpaid work, Whitrick was ordered to attend a thinking skills course, which is designed to help offenders learn how to stay out of trouble and is made up of 15 two-hour-long sessions.

Just Desserts declined to comment on yesterday’s proceedings, of which they had not been aware until alerted by the Telegraph & Argus.

Shipley Conservative MP Philip Davies said the case was “tragic for all those concerned”.

He said: “It is terrible for the company, and they must feel aggrieved they will never see this money again. It is not a victimless crime, thefts like this and stealing such sums can bankrupt a business or mean they have to lay off staff. I’m sure this has been a kick in the teeth for the company, but this is tragic for all concerned. Her addiction is clearly a massive issue for her and her family and she needs to get treatment to make sure it doesn’t happen again, that is the most important thing.

“Whether that should be in prison is hard to say without knowing the facts.”

If a POCA confiscation order is made for someone to pay back the nominal £10 amount, financial investigators can pursue them for any windfall they receive in the future - hence Judge Durham Hall’s reference to winning the Pools or the Lottery.

The Crown Prosecution Service states that: “If the value of the defendant’s available amount is less than the benefit from his/her offending and it is subsequently discovered that he/she has further realisable assets, a prosecutor can apply to the Crown Court for an increase in the amount of the confiscation order.”

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15 May 2019

Polish woman illegally let social housing

Magistrates have ordered a social housing tenant to repay thousands of pounds of rent she received by illegally subletting the Banbury property.

Rogue landlady Justyna Koczela, 43, of Zaulek Wisniowy, Poland was ordered to pay £6,254.90, comprising a fine, unlawful profit order, costs, and a victim surcharge.

Meanwhile the family who innocently rented the house are waiting to be rehoused.

A Cherwell District Council spokesman said: “A Banbury family is being supported into new accommodation after their former landlady was convicted of illegally renting out social housing".

The offence began in November 2017 when a member of the family rented the property in good faith from Koczela, who assured them that she was the owner. The residence is in fact the property of social landlord Sanctuary Housing.

Graeme Kane, Cherwell’s chief operating officer, said: “This conviction will leave people in no doubt that we will act to protect the district’s social housing stock for the people who really need it.

“The tenants are the real victims in this case. They had moved into the property in good faith and have had to endure considerable disruption through no fault of their own. I am pleased that we have been able to allocate a new home to them through the housing register.”

The defendant has now moved out of the country and did not appear in court.

When the tenants were made aware that they were living in an illegally sublet property they were eager to do the right thing and promptly contacted the council and the police for advice. They are expected to move into their new home in the coming fortnight.

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13 May 2019

£3k fine for blue badge fraud

A blue badge fraudster modified his dead dad's permit in order to avoid parking charges.

Stephen Mellor took his father's blue badge and modified it to make it look valid – changing the expiry date from 2017 to 2020.

But he was caught out on two occasions by eagle-eyed enforcement officers, who caught Mellor using the badge in a pay-and-display car park to avoid a charge.

Hampshire County Council and Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council say Mellor has now been "brought to justice".

The 66-year-old has had to pay more than £3,000 after a hearing at Basingstoke Magistrates' Court.

The court was told how parking enforcement officers from Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council spotted Mellor using the altered blue badge for his Range Rover.

He was seen on two occasions between May and June 2018, using the blue badge in order to leave his vehicle parked without payment in Churchill Way car park in Basingstoke.

This led to a detailed investigation involving Portsmouth City Council and Hampshire County Council, which unearthed that the badge belonged to Mellor's deceased father.

The council also found that the deceased's badge expired in 2017, but had been altered to show a false expiry date of 2020.

A Hampshire County Council spokesperson said: "It is a criminal offence for a person to: use a badge that does not belong to them; to alter a badge; to create a copy of a badge; to use an expired badge; and to commit any form of fraud relating to the use of a blue badge, or acquiring a blue badge.

"Hampshire County Council, as the blue badge issuing authority, is responsible for blue badge enforcement in Hampshire.

"Together with the district and unitary councils who are responsible for their local parking enforcement, the local authorities work together to identify potential or proven misuse and respond to allegations of misuse.

"These investigations, as in this case, can lead to prosecution should they be deemed serious enough."

Mellor pleaded guilty to one count of fraud for adapting the disabled badge, and two further dishonesty charges for using the altered badge.

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This looks like the simplest of offences. Whatever took them so long?

11 May 2019

Benefit cheat caught out by facebook snaps

A cheating mum-of-three who illegally pocketed £46,000 in benefits was caught out because of a family snap on Facebook.

Hayley Turner, 29, claimed she was a single mum bringing up her children alone when she claimed housing benefits, child tax credits and income support.

But undercover officers for the DSS discovered the children’s father living with her – and then spotted the holiday pictures on social media.

Turner has since married the father, James Grey and they live together in Langley.

But despite admitting the two-year fraud, she escaped an immediate jail sentence at Maidstone Crown Court.

Her barrister Trevor Wright said Mr Grey "at that time" had a cocaine problem and she ordered him to leave the family home.

He added: “This was a relationship in which she couldn’t live with him and couldn’t live without him. He has now stopped his cocaine habit and is now clean.”

Richard Hearnden, prosecuting, said during the time she was claiming all the benefits she had her third child with Mr Grey.

Turner, who now works as a receptionist at a hospital’s A&E department, shook throughout the hearing - as her husband watched from the public gallery.

Mr Hearnden said: “She applied for three benefits and was paid on the basis she was a single woman living on her own. She made the applications in 2014 and it was paid into her account. The authorities decided if she was really living alone in 2017.”

However, Mr Grey had his own keys and on social media Turner had posted pictures indicating she was in a relationship with him.

Turner claimed they were "good friends" but weren’t living together – but now accepts they were.

She is now repaying the money, which will be "over a very long time".

Judge Philip St John-Stevens gave Turner a six-month jail sentence suspended for 18 months.

He told her: “The amount defrauded is a significant amount of money. But you found yourself as a devoted mother in a vulnerable situation in terms of the stability of your partner being there or not.

“You feared if you reported he had returned then your benefits might stop and he might walk out of the door again and you would not be able to feed and clothe your daughters.”

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10 May 2019

Couple must pay almost £11k for tenancy fraud

A fraudster couple has been ordered to pay almost £11,000 after falsely obtaining a two-bedroom council property from Greenwich council, despite already owning a three-bedroom house in Sittingbourne.

Faton Gashi, 35, and Toma Valantinaite, 33, were also sentenced to 12 weeks and 22 weeks respectively, which was suspended for 18 months.

In 2009, Gashi who owns a car wash, was given a one-bedroom property based on his genuine application as a single person in need of accommodation at the time.

In 2011, he then notified the council that his partner Valantinaite had moved into his property. After the birth of their second child, the couple were rehoused to a larger two-bedroom property in Alnwick Road, Lee. They both completed the tenancy paperwork and accepted the keys to their new family home in June 2016.

In October 2016, Valantinaite notified Greenwich council that her partner, Gashi, was no longer living at the address in Lee and no forwarding address was provided for him. The tenancy at Alnwick Road was then transferred to her.

In March 2017, Valantinaite applied to purchase the property in Lee under the Right to Buy scheme, however she failed to meet the requirements and her application was rejected, which then triggered an investigation by the council and it was discovered Mr Gashi had purchased a three-bedroom house in Sittingbourne.

The couple were interviewed by council investigators in March 2018, but failed to admit their crimes and replied ‘no comment’ to all questions. Shortly after this the keys to the property at Alnwick Road were returned to Greenwich council.

Gashi and Valantinaite were summoned to attend Bexley Magistrates Court October 1, 2018 for committing fraud. They both attended court but only Gashi pleaded guilty and Valantinaite pleaded not guilty, the case was then referred to the crown court for trial in March 2019.

However, one week before the trial date Valantinaite changed her plea to guilty and both were sentenced on April 26 2019.

Cllr Christine Grice said: “Gashi and Valantinaite took away the opportunity for the council to provide much needed accommodation to a family that was genuinely in need. They selfishly accepted the keys to a larger property despite them happily living in their privately owned three-bedroom property in Sittingbourne. We are pleased with this conviction - though they have both evaded prison, the £10,800 they must pay to Greenwich council for financial loss will serve as a good reminder of their selfishness. I’m also pleased to share that a genuine family now happily lives in the two-bedroom property in Lee.”

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9 May 2019

Ipswich woman must repay £93k after illegally sub-letting council house

An Ipswich woman who was jailed for illegally sub-letting her council home and then buying it at a large discount has been ordered to repay more than £93,000 to Ipswich Borough Council.

Before Ipswich Crown Court on Wednesday, May 8, for a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act via a prison video link was Janice George, 60, who was jailed for ten months in December.

The court heard that George had lied to Ipswich Borough Council by falsely claiming she had lived at the property in Ulster Avenue, Ipswich, for five years and had used the right to buy scheme to purchase a £70,000 home for just £21,000 - a 70% discount - in 2015.

She was in fact living with a partner in Wallace Road and renting the Ulster Avenue flat to others for up to £450 per month in that time.

Between 2010 and 2015, George had received an estimated £27,000 in rent and letting agent fees.

Richard Kelly, prosecuting, said George's benefit from her offending was £93,500 and she had assets of £96,800.

Judge Rupert Overbury made a confiscation order in the sum of £93,500 to be paid as compensation to Ipswich Borough Council.

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8 May 2019

Benefit cheat's curfew hours altered for Ramadan

A benefit cheat has been allowed to change her curfew hours so that she can pray during Ramadan.

Sami Farooq appeared in court last month after claiming more than £10,000 she was not entitled to.

The 50-year-old's claim for Disability Living Allowance was legitimate from the outset. But when her poor health improved and she gained a job with a firm of woollen spinners she failed to tell anyone.

Farooq, from Crosland Moor, pleaded guilty to failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions a change of circumstances affecting her entitlement to a benefit.

Kirklees magistrates described the offence, committed between January and October in 2014, as 'serious." They sentenced her to an 18 week curfew running between the hours of 7pm and 7am as punishment.

But Farooq appeared back before magistrates and asked them to change her curfew hours for the month of Ramadan.

Through an interpreter she explained: "It's my honourable request to change the hours. It's only for one month but during this month there is extra prayer and I have to go to classes."

Magistrates were told that she wished to go to mosque to read her prayers and these finish later during the holy month. Farooq said she would expect to be home by 11pm most nights.

Magistrates agreed to vary her curfew so that it runs from 11pm until 9am from May 5 until June 6.

From June 7 until July 20 she must be inside for the original curfew hours of 7pm to 7am.

Magistrates added an extra two days to her curfew to reflect the shorter hours she will be inside during Ramadan.

Farooq asked if she could get in later on other days outside the religious festival but they refused.

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7 May 2019

£166k lottery winner jailed for benefit fraud

A man who won big on the Postcode Lottery has been sent to prison for benefit fraud after continuing to claim benefits.

Eric Burrows scooped £166,000 on the popular lotto, then posed with other winners for publicity photos at Swansea's Brangwyn Hall.

But he failed to notify the authorities of his good fortune and continued to claim housing benefit and employment support allowance.

A judge said it was clear from a probation report into Burrows that the 62-year-old had been motivated by greed, and had shown "little or no remorse" for his actions.

Swansea Crown Court heard Burrows began claiming benefits in 2004 because he was unable to work and had only limited savings, and for many years the claim was entirely legitimate.

However in 2015 the defendant won £166,666 on the Postcode Lottery.

Craig Jones, prosecuting, said Burrows' "good fortune" meant he now had more than the £16,000 capital limit for benefit claimants, meaning his entitlement ceased. The authorities were not notified, however.

The prosecutor said by the November of 2017 Burrows' savings were down to £7,665 with the lotto money seemingly having gone on items including holidays to Disney World in Florida, a £22,000 car, a motorhome of the same value, and gifts to his parter and sister.

Mr Jones said when Burrows was interviewed under caution by investigators he accepted he had won the lottery, and said he did not declare it because he regarded the cash as "family money" and not his own.

Burrows, from Waunarlwydd , Swansea , had previously pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud totalling some £20,157 when he appeared in the dock for sentencing.

The court heard he has previous convictions for thefts, taking a car without the owner's consent, burglary, and assault with intent to commit robbery, though there is nothing on his record since 1987.

Frank Phillips, for Burrows, said he had no doubt the defendant's behaviour in failing to declare his windfall "will not have impressed the court or anyone else", and he said his client's thinking had been "disturbed".

He said Burrows had been out of trouble for 30 years prior to the commission of these offences, and was now in poor physical health.

Judge Keith Thomas described the offending as a "deliberate and determined fraud" which took funds from an already stretched public purse.

He said it was clear from a probation report into the defendant his motivation had been greed, and he had shown "little or no remorse" for his dishonest behaviour.

The judge said the only question to be decided was whether any term of imprisonment could be suspended or should be served immediately.

The judge said having carefully read the sentencing guidelines and guidance, read the probation report, and listened to submissions there was no "no basis for believing a suspended sentence would have any rehabilitative purpose".

Giving Burrows a one-third discount for this guilty pleas, judge Thomas sentenced him to 24 weeks prison for each of the five offences, all the sentences to run concurrently with each other making an overall sentence of 24 weeks.

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