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20 Nov 2019

Light sentence for blatant big benefit fraud

A benefit cheat continued collecting her dead mother’s pension for nearly eight years in a £77,000 fraud, a court heard. (h/t Dave)

Hilary Wilson, 46, a school clerical assistant from Brixton, did not report the death, which happened during a visit to Jamaica and was not registered in the UK.

Inner London crown court heard that Wilson’s mother had her state pension paid into a joint account that she held with her daughter.

The mother of two pleaded guilty to defrauding the Department for Work and Pensions between August 10, 2009 and February 12, 2017. The fraud was exposed in a review of her finances.

Sam Barker, prosecuting, told the court: “It is £77,000 she is not entitled to. She dishonestly received a benefit she was never entitled to.”

Wilson’s lawyer said she was the only breadwinner in the household after her husband died. The court was told she has a daughter, 24, and a son, 10, who both have health problems.

Of course they have.

Judge Ian Darling told Wilson: “You have been very dishonest, but in circumstances that mitigate that dishonesty.”

Wilson was sentenced to 15 months in prison, ­suspended for two years and was ordered to complete 120 hours of community service.

She must also complete 15 days of rehabilitation and the DWP will make deductions from benefits she receives for herself rather than pursue full confiscation.

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18 Nov 2019

Man sentenced for benefit fraud and obtaining a false passport

A man who cheated the state out of thousands of pounds in benefits and fraudulently obtained a passport has been sentenced. (h/t Dave)

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Mohammed Ahmed, 39, claimed £6,762 of Universal Credit to which he was not entitled between February 2018 to January 2019.

Investigations into this led the authorities to uncover other frauds committed by Ahmed.

Ahmed, formerly known as Shirajul Hoque, entered the UK from Bangladesh as a Bangladeshi national born in 1969. Ahmed does not qualify for British citizenship and has never made an application for entry clearance to the UK.

In 2003, he made an application for a passport, under the name of Shirajul Hoque, and provided an old British blue passport as identification. That old passport turned out to be a forgery.

In 2008, he applied for another passport with a change of name deed poll document that changed his name from Shirajul Hoque to Mohammed Shiraj Ahmed. He was issued with another passport.

As a result of the defendant’s application to the Department for Work and Pensions between 6 March 2018 and 7 January 2019, Universal Credit payments amounting to £6,762.81 were paid into his bank account.

In January 2019, Department of Work and Pensions officials searched Ahmed’s house in Station Road, Holmes Chapel, and found the deed poll document and one of the passports.

He was arrested on 15 January 2019. He pleaded guilty to possession of a false identity document with intent and dishonest representation for obtaining benefit.

The Crown Prosecution Service allowed two other charges, of possession of a false identity document with intent and making an untrue statement for the purpose of obtaining a passport to lie on file.

On 7 November 2019 at Chester Crown Court, Ahmed was sentenced to 18 months in prison suspended for two years, and he must surrender his false passport. The decision on whether or not he should be deported has been passed to the Home Office.

Source

11 Nov 2019

Plymouth's worst recent benefit cheats

Shameless benefit cheats have fleeced the state out of tens of thousands of pounds with blatant lies.

Disability claimants have been caught training dogs at Crufts, delivering pizzas or holding down two physically-demanding care jobs.

One woman who hid her working husband from the authorities flaunted her cash on a holiday in the Far East.

Most are women.

Here is the list of Plymouth's worst cheats over the last couple of years.

8 Nov 2019

Dog owner was benefit fraudster

A dog owner who claimed she could not walk fleeced £16,000 in disability benefits despite showing off her pooch at Crufts, a court heard.

Dawn Gregory, 56, said she could only move 20 yards at a time following a brain hernia.

But the prize-winning Kennel Club-registered breeder was filmed briskly trotting her pedigree keeshond at the dog show.

Lincoln crown court heard she was listed with the Department for Work and Pensions as suffering headaches, neck and shoulder pain, weakness to her left side and mini-strokes.

But investigators found she was well enough to breed dogs at her £300,000 home in Kettlethorpe, Lincs, and to attend shows, and prosecuted her. The court heard her medical condition was not in dispute.

But prosecutors said she claimed £16,719 at an enhanced rate she was clearly not entitled to.

She admitted benefit fraud and got an eight-week jail term, suspended for a year, and a three-month electronically monitored night-time curfew.

The confiscation of £16,719 of assets was ordered.

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Benefit cheat had money to buy house

A benefit cheat squirrelled away enough cash to buy a house while illegally taking £23,000 from tax payers.

Bolton Crown Court heard how Nasera Iqbal claimed to be a single mum with no income or assets and caring for her elderly mother.

On a claim form for income support in January 2013 she stated she had no savings.

But Philip Barnes, prosecuting, told Judge Richard Gioserano that, in reality, in March 2012 she had more than £16,000 in a bank account and by January 2015 the amount had grown to £75,000.

Department for Work and Pensions investigators found the bank account dwindled to less than £100 in January 2016. Iqbal, aged 57, had bought the Bolton house she lives in and had registered it in the name of two of her sons.

Iqbal had denied making a false statement to obtain benefits and two offences of failing to notify a change in circumstances affecting entitlement to income support and housing benefit between 2011 and 2016 but, following a trial at Manchester Magistrates' Court, she was convicted and sent to Bolton Crown Court for sentence.

William Magill, defending told the court that Iqbal had received the money from her husband in Pakistan to buy the house.

At the same time she claimed £10,200 in income support and £12,800 in housing benefit to which she was not entitled.

Mr Magill said Iqbal did not treat the money in the bank account as belonging to her.

"The money that came to her account came via her husband, who she is estranged from and who lives in Pakistan," he said. "They were in an abusive relationship and he was eventually deported on a visitor's visa. He was using the money, in a way, to coerce her into assisting him to gain re-entry to the country."

Judge Gioserano refused to follow a recommendation in a pre-sentence report that Iqbal should be given a curfew.

Instead he handed her a 12 month community order and told her she must undertake 180 hours of unpaid work.

"This was your money, your savings. Whilst you were saving this money to buy a house, which you put into the names of your children, the public were supporting you to the tune of £23,000 which you should not have had," Judge Gioserano told Iqbal.

"You have been dishonest. I don't think it is necessary to send you prison but I do think that you require punishment and the public need to see you punished for this dishonesty."

A proceeds of crime hearing will take place on February 10 in order to force Iqbal to repay the cash.

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1 Nov 2019

Rochdale still owed £5m+ in overpaid housing benefits

Rochdale Council is still owed £5.1m in housing benefits wrongly paid to residents.

The figure represents the total amount of money outstanding – including from previous years – yet to be recouped by the authority.

Overpayments made to people in receipt of the benefit over the last financial year came to £1.9m, while some £330,000 was written off over the same period.

The council says while the overall amount owing is the lowest in Greater Manchester, it will use all the tools at its disposal to recover the money.

Neil Thornton, the council’s director of resources, said: “We take all reasonable efforts to recover any amount due. In certain circumstances this can include deductions directly from future Housing Benefit payments, from DWP benefits or from earnings.”

He added overpayments were only written off by the council ‘after all available recovery options have been exhausted or if the person has absconded and is unable to be found’.

The rules on who is eligible for housing benefit are set by the government and the payments are administered by local authorities.

Overpayments can happen for a variety of reasons, from residents making mistakes or failing to notify a change in circumstances to fraudulent activity.

Nearly £1.8 million in overpaid housing benefits was recovered by the council during the 2018/19 financial year.

Rochdale council is currently facing a budget gap of more than £7m, making it vital to keep the amount of money it loses to fraud and error to an absolute minimum. Mr Thornton said the council has plans in place to ensure this is the case.

He said: “We have a range of preventative measures – these include verifying information from residents with supporting evidence and using a range of data matching sources from DWP, HMRC, landlords and employers,” he said.

“Claims and changes are not processed until appropriate evidence is provided to support the information provided. Changes in circumstances are processed quickly, particularly if these will result in less Housing Benefit being due. In some cases, payment is suspended whilst necessary information is obtained.”

Greater Manchester’s local authorities were owed nearly £100m at the end of 2018/19 according to the latest government figures.

Manchester had the highest amount outstanding – some £27.4m – followed by Wigan and Salford (both £12.8m).

Rochdale (£5.1m), Bury (£5.5m) and Stockport (£5.8m) were owed the least.

Source

31 Oct 2019

Conditional discharge for social housing fraud

A former Crawley resident has been successfully prosecuted by Crawley Borough Council for two criminal offences in relation to council tax and tenancy fraud.

Helen Reed held a council tenancy at Cumbernauld Walk, Bewbush but moved out of her property to live with her husband in Gosport in April 2018. She was also claiming a Council Tax Reduction Scheme award and housing benefit at the Bewbush address.

Council fraud investigators became aware of the situation in August 2018 and began gathering evidence to prove their case.

Mrs Reed was found to be renting accommodation in Gosport while continuing to receive benefits at her Crawley address, which was rented out to her adult daughter. Mrs Reed failed to inform the council about the change in her circumstances and that she was no longer living at Cumbernauld Walk.

Once enough evidence was obtained, Mrs Reed was interviewed under caution at Portsmouth City Council offices by fraud officers from Crawley Borough Council in March 2019, by which time the situation had been continuing for almost a year, leading to substantial council tax and housing benefit overpayments, which she was made to repay.

Additionally, her tenancy was subsequently ended and the property at Cumbernauld Walk was repossessed by the council.

Mrs Reed was summonsed to court for her actions and pleaded guilty to offences under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 and the Council Tax Reduction Schemes Regulations 2013. She was convicted and sentenced to a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay a contribution towards costs.

Unbelievable

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29 Oct 2019

Mother not jailed over £70k benefits fraud

A mother of three has been spared jail over a £70,000 benefits fraud.

Samantha Butters, 36, pleaded guilty on the day of her trial to four charges of dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstance affecting entitlement to various benefits and one count of fraud in relation to tax credit.

Bradford Crown Court was told she failed to declare her former partner had moved back in and had been living with her at her home in Odsal.

The court heard most of the money was used to pay off debts but some of it went on Butters' expenses on a family holiday to Spain paid for by her former partner's parents.

Nadim Bashir, prosecuting, told the court: "She had nine opportunities to inform the benefits people of her true circumstances."

He said Butters and her former partner did nothing to hide the fact they were living together with pictures of the family posted on Facebook, while he gave her address to his employers as his place of residence and his wages were paid into her bank account.

Mr Bashir said that Butters told investigators that she had received letters about her benefit claims but did not deal with them. She denied she and her former partner had set up a common household together.

He said she had no assets and was not likely to come into any assets so that none of the money could be recovered.

Clare Walsh, for Butters, said that her client contested the period of time her former partner had been living with her and said not all the claims were fraudulent from the start.

She said that the couple split in 2009 but he came back on the scene in 2011 but only as a father to their children and a family friend.

She said although Butters let her ex use an account because he was a bankrupt she only transferred money to her primary account to pay for expenses.

Mrs Walsh said: "She's remorseful and wants to move on with her life and learn from it.

"She's a mother of three children with a good reputation."

She said Butters worked four days a week with special needs pupils at school and has "a naturally caring work ethic".

She called on the judge to give her client a suspended sentence because of the consequences imprisonment would have on the family.

Butters was accused of claiming income support to the tune of £11,581, housing and council tax benefits totalling £22,264 and tax credits of £36,450, when her partner lived with her, and carer's allowance of £10,300 for helping with her disabled brother which she claimed despite having a job.

But Butters disputed the length of time that her partner was living with her and that the figures calculated by benefit fraud investigators should have been lower at about £70,000 and that was the figure she pleaded guilty to.

Judge Jonathan Gibson told her: "Some of it was not fraud from the outset but some was. You were dishonest."

He said Butters' youngest child was seven years old and imprisonment would have significant effects on her children.

He sentenced her to 40 weeks' imprisonment suspended for a year, 120 hours' unpaid work and compensation of £1,000 to be paid to the Department for Work and Pensions.

Source

28 Oct 2019

How Birmingham is tackling social housing frauds

This explores behind the recent revelation that sixty-four Birmingham homes had been recovered in a crackdown on housing fraud.

Amidst a housing crisis in the city with 13,000 people on the waiting list including around 3,000 families in temporary accommodation, every single home has become an extremely precious commodity. So it is scandalous that scores of perfectly good council houses are being abused every year - some just abandoned, while others are utilised for criminal enterprises such as cannabis farms.

But since 2010 the city council has ploughed significant investment into tackling the issue, with investigators using everything from light bulbs to library cards to detect fraud.

"It's always been there," said Neil Farquharson group auditor at the council, "But we have become more and more sophisticated and put more resources into tackling the problem.

"We realised how valuable a council property is, the amount of people we have got in temporary accommodation is growing and growing, therefore the more effort we can put into recovering properties and stopping people getting tenancies fraudulently, the better. Is it getting worse? It's difficult to say, but the housing crisis in the city is only going to exacerbate the problem."

In the past, illegal sub-letting grabbed the headlines being a major problem in London where property prices are notoriously high. It also prompted the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act in 2013. But that issue is 'rare' in the second-city where 'non-residency' is the most common type of housing fraud. This can often occur when people meet new partners and spend time living with them instead, or maybe move to a different part of the city or country for work.

Typically, tenants will also be in receipt of housing benefit which means they can stay away knowing their rent is covered. Is it naivety or an intentional abuse of the system?

"It's a mixture of both," said Mr Farquharson, "A lot of the cases we get are because a person's personal life has changed. There is a degree of naivety but also some people fully know what is expected of them and they will go ahead anyway."

Right to Buy, the government scheme which gives council tenants of three years or more significant discounts off the purchase price of a home, has also created an 'incentive' to obtain a council property. It has driven fraudulent housing applications whereby people may lie about the make-up of their household, falsely claiming there are six people living in a one-bedroom flat when there are only two, for instance.

Then there are the fraudulent housing applications themselves, when people will purport to have less than the £16,000 capital threshold which would render them ineligible. At the more extreme end of the scale, homes have been completely abused and used to grow drugs on an industrial scale.

"You will get cannabis farms that's one of the problems, that has been the case in Birmingham," Mr Farquharson lamented.

So how does the council go about tackling the problem? Partly, there is a reliance on tenant's neighbours reporting suspected misuse of a property. But over the years the authority has also developed a 'pioneering' anti-fraud data warehouse. It is essentially a mega-system which captures all of the data across the council to 'get a picture of a person' including council tax records, benefits records, licensing records and even library card forms.

"If we look at a housing application and somebody says they are living at an address in a particular part of the city we can say 'well actually according to your library card you don't live at that address, and according to your benefit records there's another inconsistency' so straight away it identifies anomalies," Mr Faquharson said.

It has become an incredibly efficient tool allowing for 'real-time matching' of information within 24 hours of a new housing application. The task then is for investigators to build up enough evidence to reclaim a property, which can take anywhere between three to 18 months.

Mr Farquharson said: "We speak to neighbours and say we haven't seen that person in the property for a long time. We have also got the power to request utility providers to tell us how much gas and electricity a person has used in a given period.

"We use industry averages as well, and can say 'your usage suggests you have had one light bulb on for the last two years, don't you put the heating on, the cooker on, the television on? So we build a case of evidence."

In some cases, the information is sufficient to cancel housing benefits and the prospect of a backdated bill is enough to cause tenants to surrender the keys without fuss. In other instances they may fight it.

Figures suggest that the fraud team is now getting ahead of the problem. While the number of homes being recovered is declining from 87 in 2017/18 to 64 last year, and just shy of 30 so far this year, the amount of cancelled applications is going in the other direction. There were 152 applications stopped before letting in 2017/18, increasing to 212 last year, while there have been more than 400 already in the current financial year.

High-profile results over the years, have also helped highlight the issue of housing fraud. Among them was Sonia Hunter who was awarded a 70 per cent discount on her Right to Buy purchase of 45 Attenborough Close, but failed to declare that she owned a home in Court Lane, Erdington. In 2014 she was given a 10-week prison sentence suspended for 18 months, and ordered to pay the council £23,545 through the the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).

In the same year concerns were raised about senior council housing officer Zara Danyaal, from Acocks Green. An investigation established she used fake identities and personal information to submit and process six fraudulent housing applications between 2011 and 2013.

Danyaal was jailed in June 2016 for three years - 30 months for one count of housing fraud and six months for two offences relating to job references. She was also ordered to repay £20,000. Her other Samara Malik, who was not employed by the council but awarded one of tenancies, was sentenced to ten months for one count of housing fraud after supplying false information.

Then there was Mbarak Awdah Abdallah who was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment - having already been jailed for another offence - and ordered to repay £18,990.30. He had gained the tenancy of 4 Milston Close in Druids Heath, after claiming a 'landlord' had ordered him to vacate his home at 191 Chinn Brook Road, Yardley Wood - a property, which it transpired Abdallah owned himself and had been renting out.

"If you are committing housing fraud we are getting more and more sophisticated with our detection methods, we will find you and there is legislation there that means we can prosecute you," said Mr Farquharson.

"To the members of the public, social housing fraud isn't something we should tolerate, we shouldn't be denying people who genuinely deserve social housing. If you believe somebody isn't using their property as their sole main residence, you should report it."

Source

27 Oct 2019

Benefits claimant pretended she was disabled

A woman who falsely said she was disabled but was seen dancing at a wedding has been jailed for claiming benefits worth £260,000.

Nasreen Akhtar also said she was a single parent but was caught living with a partner, prosecutors said.

She claimed the fraudulent "complex raft of benefits" between 2002 and 2013 based on being a single parent with poor mobility who was too ill to work.

The 50-year-old was caught following covert surveillance after a tip-off.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said police discovered she had a partner when they found him in her bed during a raid on her home in 2013.

Also, while she claimed she was "too ill to work" and had "poor mobility" and "significant care needs", she was seen out and about with her family, and dancing at a wedding, the CPS added.

Akhtar, from Oldham, admitted seven counts of fraud against the local authority and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

At Manchester Crown Court she was jailed for two years.

Simon Tunnicliffe, of Mersey Cheshire CPS's fraud unit, said the case went "way beyond the average".

He said it took three years to bring a case against Akhtar as she had attempted - "at further cost to the taxpayer" - to have herself found unfit to stand trial.

"Earlier this year we brought even more compelling evidence that Ms Akhtar was trying to hoodwink the court and the judge decided that she was fit and well enough to stand trial," he said.

Akhtar later pleaded guilty to a total of seven counts of fraud.

The CPS said Akhtar had claimed housing benefit and council tax relief as a single parent for a house she rented, when she had actually owned it jointly with her partner.

She also claimed income support as a single parent when she owned other properties and had significant savings, it added.

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