30 Sep 2011

Benefits thief defrauded six councils

A benefits cheat has been jailed for three years after defrauding six different local councils out of nearly £400,000 over ten years.

Younes Izouaouen, 45, was convicted of illegally claiming housing benefit

His brother Samir, 36, who admitted a minor role in the frauds, received an eight-month suspended sentence.

The brothers used false passports and payslips to claim housing benefit from six London boroughs: Greenwich, Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Brent, Barking & Dagenham, and Southwark.

The pair, who were sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court, were caught when Greenwich Council officials, working with police, found a false French passport and false national insurance card.

These had been used to claim housing benefit in the name of Fabrice Hannache and related to Younes' home in Thamesmead.

Officers then found some identity packs and equipment to make counterfeit credit cards in a cupboard.

More than 20 housing benefit claims had been made, totaling around £385,000.

False identities had also been used to claim around £15,000 from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Younes, a company director, was abroad when his home was searched.

He returned to Britain and was living on a caravan site near Rochester, Kent when he was arrested in May and charged with conspiracy to defraud.

So where did our money go? And why do councils' databases not communicate?

No jail for £44k benefit fraud

A 38-year-old Oldbury father who fiddled nearly £45,000 in benefits while he was in full time employment has escaped jail.

Wayne Meek started claiming incapacity benefits in 2003 after telling the Department of Work and Pensions he was unable to work because of illness and disability.

But all the time he was doing 40 hours a week for his employers and halfway through his fraud he even changed his job, said Mr Fazzad Afzal prosecuting.

He said Meek also claimed housing and council tax benefits while holding down his job and, over a six and a half year period, he fraudulently obtained a total of £44,717.

Meek of Edmunds Road admitted five charges of making a false representation to obtain benefits between October 2003 and April 2010.

He was given a 12 month jail term suspended for two years and also ordered to carry out 250 hours Community Punishment.

Judge Rosalind Bush told him that at no time during the period of the fraud had he made any attempt to notify the Department of the true position.

She said she did not accept the argument he had been claiming the money to help support his family after his divorce because they were also in receipt of state benefits.

Mr Afzal said that after his arrest Meek told investigating officers he wanted to see if he could work with his back problem and things then just went "on and on."

Miss Heidi Kubik defending said Meek who maintained he was struggling financially after his divorce was a good father who was "trying in the wrong way to provide for his children."

She told Wolverhampton Crown Court that Meek was now making repayments of £145 a month back to the Department.

29 Sep 2011

Two Ewell women steal five figure sums

Two Ewell women have been ordered to pay back over £25,000 in benefits after admitting submitting fraudulent claims.

The women were sentenced for separate offences at South East Surrey Magistrates earlier this month after a joint investigation by Epsom and Ewell Council and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Maria De Sousa, who fraudulently received over £10,800, pleaded guilty to three counts of benefit fraud after failing to declare her partner had moved in to live with her two years earlier.

De Sousa was ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work, pay £100 towards the prosecution costs and repay all the benefits she fraudulently obtained.

On the same day, Lisa-Marie Bennett, who fraudulently received over £14,700, pleaded guilty to three counts of benefit fraud after she too failed to declare that her partner had moved in after they married.

Bennett was given a three-week curfew and ordered to wear a tagging device, ordered to pay £100 towards the prosecution costs, and will have to repay all overpaid benefits.
  • Benefit thieves do it for the money. They should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole, and that they will get no benefits until they have.

    Any benefit thieves who don't go to prison should also have to do community service.

28 Sep 2011

Husband and wife convicted of benefits fraud

A Wincanton woman found guilty of benefit fraud has been fined after an investigation led by South Somerset District Council.

Trudy Chubb was sentenced on Monday 5 September and must pay a £250 fine, a £15 victim surcharge and £150 towards the district council's costs.

She must also repay the full £1,400 of fraudulently claimed housing and council tax benefit payments. She had failed to declare that she was working.

Incredibly, her husband Brian Chubb, 51, of the same address was sentenced for benefit fraud in July this year because he had not disclosed tax credits and had made a false statement about the amount of hours his wife was working, whilst he was jointly claiming benefits with Trudy.

Mr Chubb has also previously been convicted for similar offences.

Mr Chubb must carry out 120 hours of unpaid community work within 12 months and was ordered to pay £500 costs, though he has appealed the outcome of the hearing. Both cases were heard at Yeovil Magistrates Court.

Cllr Ric Pallister, SSDC Leader said: "Sometimes genuine mistakes are made, but where claimants deliberately set out to dishonestly deprive the taxpaying public of money to which they know they are not entitled, it will be pursued.

"Benefit fraud is theft from the community. It takes money away from those who can ill afford it and South Somerset District Council will not tolerate it.

"We are responding to justifiable public demands in using all of the techniques available to us in order to identify benefit fraud and bring each case to justice."

27 Sep 2011

Limited fraud success at Leicester City Council

More than 100 people who may be committing housing benefit fraud or wrongly using disabled parking badges are being investigated by the city council.

Each year the council takes part in the National Fraud Initiative, which involves electronically matching up information from different sources to identify possible fraud or irregularity.

For example a list of people claiming the single person's council tax discount can be checked against the electoral roll to see whether more than one person lives at a particular address.

A new report by Leicester City Council shows that the system has uncovered two frauds this year.

Both involved tenancies and in both cases the culprits have been evicted. A further 112 cases are under investigation.

Steve Charlesworth, the council's head of finance. said: "We look at all the information that's available to us and cross-reference it all.

"We're looking for any anomalies. If we spot a potential issue it will be investigated further.

"At first, thousands of potential leads will come up but we gradually narrow these down. Two frauds have been identified so far this year. It's worth doing because it means frauds aren't missed, and it also means every department has to stay vigilant to potential frauds."

This year, for the first time, data can also be matched against death registration to find cases where, for example, concessionary travel passes continue to be issued and used after the beneficiary has died.

The initiative is run by the Audit Commission using information provided by organisations including the NHS, Home Office and Department for Work and Pensions.

A spokesman for the Audit Commission said: "The data matching exercise is designed to alert councils to potential fraud by spotting individuals whose names appear on more than one database in a way which suggests that they may be committing fraud.

"Since the initiative's start in 1996, the programme has helped identify £664 million in fraud or error and the initiative has attracted international recognition.

"It is a sophisticated data matching exercise which matches electronic data within and between participating bodies to prevent and detect fraud."

The Audit Commission expects councils to have investigated the majority of matches by the end of January next year before sending back their findings to feed into a national report.

26 Sep 2011

Jail for £140k benefit fraud

The wife of a company director is Havering’s biggest ever benefits cheat after scamming a whopping £140,000 over 13 years.

Mother-of-three Samantha Austin, from Harold Hill, was jailed for 16 months at Basildon Crown Court after falsely claiming she was a single mum – when in fact she was living with husband John Austin, a director and shareholder of engineering company Academy ENG.

Mrs Austin, 37, was raking-in more than £250 a week in benefits in a scam that began in 1996, when the couple married.

But the con was finally unravelled by Havering Council fraud investigators following an anonymous tip-off.

Even under investigation, Mrs Austin tried to keep up the single-parent scam, claiming she and John had separated 11 years ago.

At one stage Mrs Austin even said she hadn’t admitted being married because her husband was imprisoned for 18-months and she was unsure whether he was going to return to the family home.

But investigators found Mr Austin’s post was delivered to the address, they were listed as joint tenants, they had a joint bank account, his name was on their children’s birth certificates and the addresses of both parents were the same on their two children’s school records.

Mrs Austin also has an older child from a previous relationship.

She changed to a guilty plea for two counts of dishonest representation for obtaining benefits at Basildon Crown Court on September 5.

Sentencing, Judge Saggerson, said: “Benefit fraud on this scale, over this period of time is criminality of such seriousness that only an immediate prison sentence could possibly be justified.

“I have taken into account your very late guilty plea and that you have no previous convictions against you, but also bear in mind good character is somewhat diminished as in this case you have, over a period of over ten years, defrauded in excess of £140,000 from the public purse.”

When Austin is released from prison, the council will set up a payment plan to ensure the defrauded money is recovered.

25 Sep 2011

Jail for £46k housing benefit fraud

A West Drayton woman has been jailed for eight months after fraudulently claiming more than £46,000 in housing benefits.

Over an eight-year period, Vivienne Bromfield faked tenancy agreements for properties she owned outright.

Despite owning a West Drayton home and being the former owner of a property in Hayes, Bromfield claimed housing benefit at both addresses.

Gary Coote, Hillingdon’s corporate fraud investigation manager, said: “She shamelessly lied about owning her own property to cheat taxpayers out of thousands of pounds.”

He added: “We are pleased to see she has received an appropriate punishment for her crimes.”

Bromfield was sentenced at Harrow Crown Court after pleading guilty to supplying Hillingdon Council with the falsified documents.

Since April, the borough has identified £160,000 in housing and council tax benefit that has been fraudulently claimed. So far, it has recovered £31,000.

23 Sep 2011

But this fraud ran for nine years

Broxtowe Borough Council has successfully prosecuted another benefit cheat this month after a Brinsley man was caught by a data matching exercise with other agencies.

Stewart Purdy failed to declare a significant amount which he held in an account whilst claiming council tax benefit and housing benefit for a period of nine years from the year 2002 to 2011. In all, over £28,000 was overpaid to Mr Purdy.

In mitigation, Mr Purdy's solicitor stated that he had never been in trouble before, that he was of an advanced age and had not known about the account which he had failed to declare.

He had not benefited from the fraud and had repaid all sums owing back to the Council.

As a first offence for the defendant, the magistrates, taking into account the size of the original overpayment and Mr Purdy's mitigation, decided to give Mr Purdy a six month community order with a four month curfew attached to it.

Mr Purdy will not be permitted to leave his home between 9.00pm in the evening and 8.00am in the morning. The Council's full costs of the prosecution were paid.

22 Sep 2011

The law moves far too slowly

Bromley Council report that they turned to the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover money that had been fraudulently claimed.

Following the successful prosecution for benefit fraud of Tanya Benjamin 44, of Mackenzie Road , Clockhouse, Beckenham in September 2010, Bromley Council turned to the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover the money that had been fraudulently claimed by her.

Ms Benjamin had failed to declare to Bromley Council that she owned a property in Spain that she lived at for several months a year. She pleaded guilty to the charges laid before her by Greenwich Council's Internal Audit and Anti Fraud Team. On 8 September 2010, Miss Benjamin was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, in relation to each count of fraud to run concurrently, but suspended for 12 months. She was also required to complete Education Training and Employment and 100 hours of Community Service.

After sentencing, Financial Investigators from the Internal Audit and Anti Fraud Team prepared a financial analysis of Ms Benjamin and satisfied the Court that if she sold her property in Spain she would have enough equity in her property to pay off the money owed to Bromley Council.

On 7 September 2011, Bromley Council was awarded a Compensation Order of £29,491.23 to be paid out of the Confiscation Order awarded against Ms Benjamin. She has 6 months to pay this amount plus a further £10,000.00 towards Court costs to Bromley Council. Failure to do so will trigger a default sentence of 14 months imprisonment.

Councillor Neil Reddin, Chairman of Bromley's Audit Committee, said: "This is a very good outcome for Bromley and its residents. In this case we pursued and recovered this amount from a convicted fraudster thanks to the commendable efforts of our investigators. This money will be used for people genuinely entitled to benefits.

Hm. It's been a year between the court actions. Have they actually recovered anything yet?

21 Sep 2011

Do we get our money back?

A mother-of-three has been sentenced to 120 community service after fleecing taxpayers of almost £17,000 in fraudulent benefits.

Maria Rowlinson, 35, told Sutton Council she had lived alone with her three children since 2008.

But in fact she was living with her husband, who runs his own scaffolding business, while she pocketed the cash by pretending to be a single parent.

Croydon Magistrates' Court heard she claimed £16,811 in tax credits, income support and council tax benefits over the last three-and-a-half years.

Rowlinson was prosecuted after a tip-off from the public led to joint investigation by Sutton Council, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

She pleaded guilty on Tuesday, September 13, and was sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid work.
  • Benefit thieves do it for the money. They should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole, and get no benefits until they have.

    Any who don't go to prison should also have to do community service.

20 Sep 2011

Disability benefits fraudster gets suspended sentence

A British woman who claimed thousands of pounds in benefits after telling authorities she was so ill she could not turn over in bed was found to be working 10-hour shifts as a waitress in Paris.

Florenze Brooks, 62, told the Department for Work and Pensions that she couldn't walk far, but took coaches to the French capital to work on her feet at international air shows.

In addition she claimed that she could not sit for more than 15 minutes, Teesside Crown Court heard.

While working at the air show, she spent up to ten hours a day on her feet serving food and drink.

Brooks, from Yarm, near Stockton-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, was handed nearly £7,000 in Income Support and Disability Allowance while working for a firm supplying staff for events.

James Kemp, prosecuting, told the court that Brooks - who is also known as Bowe - travelled across the Channel to Paris alone and returned using public transport.

Brooks admitted two charges of failing to notify the authorities of a change in her circumstances and was given a three-month prison sentence, suspended for a year.

Judge Tony Briggs told her: 'In these straightened times, when anyone claims benefit they are not entitled to, it is likely to attract a good deal of condemnation from the public.'

Andrew Teate, mitigating, said Brooks was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, which led to her claiming benefits, but accepted that she was well enough to work later that year.

Mr Teate said she had applied to be made bankrupt, still suffers from a number of ailments and relies on family for help in the home.

Benefit fraudsters convicted

A 45-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman have been prosecuted for benefit fraud totalling more than £16,000.

Alice Cottee, from Wokingam, pleaded guilty to three charges of dishonestly failing to declare changes in her circumstances concerning income from self-employed earnings which led to £5,159 of fraudulent benefit.

She was ordered to repay the sum and £100 in costs, and was also awarded an 18-month conditional discharge.

John Lucy, from Woodley, also pleaded guilty to four separate charges of dishonestly failing to declare his employed earnings resulting in £11,282 of fraudulent benefit.

He was given a nine-month custodial sentence suspended for two years and a six-month supervision order.

The council pays out £12.3 million in housing benefit and council tax benefit each year.

It is estimated nationally that 10 per cent of benefit paid has been claimed fraudulently.

That's the highest estimate I've seen.

Last year, the council launched a new investigations team to uncover fraudsters over claiming in areas such as housing and council tax. The team has already uncovered tens of thousands of pounds worth of overpayments.
  • A conditional discharge doesn't cut it. Benefit thieves do it for the money. So hit them in the pocket. It was money that motivated them, and a financial penalty will help to deter them.

    Everyone convicted of benefit fraud who doesn't go to prison should have to do unpaid work.

    Benefit thieves should also have to repay twice what they've stolen, and should know they won't be eligible for any further benefits – including tax credits - until they have. A confiscation order should be automatic and immediate.

    If you don't punish people who are convicted of an easy crime, the offence will continue to look attractive.

Clairvoyant to be sentenced for benefit fraud

In her entry posted on the Psychic TV website, Dawn Pearson proudly proclaimed herself an ‘excellent clairvoyant’.

Clients were happy to pay £1.53 per minute for telephone conversations in which she supposedly used tarot cards, crystals and spirit guides to foresee their future.

But 50-year-old Pearson failed to predict that a tall, dark stranger would be coming into her own life – in the shape of a benefits investigator.

She had claimed £33,000 in allowances while claiming to be too ill to work, and not declaring her source of income from the spirit world.

Yesterday she admitted four charges of benefits fraud and was remanded to be sentenced at Swansea Crown Court by Neath magistrates.

The court heard that Pearson unlawfully claimed a total of £33,206.82 in income support, jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit over 16 months.

At the same time she was advertising herself as a chat line clairvoyant on the Psychic TV website.

She was pictured next to the description: ‘Dawn is an excellent psychic clairvoyant, with many years’ experience.

‘She uses her cards and crystals, and also her spirit guides to get a link with you.

‘Dawn will happily discuss any pressing relationship or career questions, but can also give general guidance on self-development using her training as a life coach.’

Prosecutor John Allchurch, from the Department for Work and Pensions, said: ‘Suspicion arose that Miss Pearson was working and an investigation was instigated.

‘Miss Pearson was working as a self-employed chat line tarot reader between 2005 and 2009 for one company and after that for another company.’

Pearson, from Neath, was described as a ‘lady of previously good character’ by her solicitor Paul Jackson.

He said: ‘There have been problems of an individual nature. She had got herself into debt.

‘It was partly hers but a great deal came from her generosity with regards to her mother who she was helping out with large catalogue debts at the time. That doesn’t excuse fraud – she became desperate.

‘She had brought it upon herself and wasn’t brave enough to deal with it. These things do not go away and it caused her great stress.’
  • Benefit thieves do it for the money. They should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole, and that they will get no benefits until they have.

    Any who don't go to prison should also have to do community service.

Complex benefit fraud leads to jail

A property manager guilty of benefit fraud will spend eight weeks in jail.

Victoria Coker was sentenced when she appeared at Richmond Magistrates’ Court, having pleaded guilty to 13 benefit fraud offences.

The former Surbiton and Croydon resident was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and to pay costs of £3,406.

In a joint investigation by Kingston and Croydon councils, Coker was found to be deliberately claiming housing and council tax benefit from both councils at the same time.

The court heard Coker provided false payslips to both councils to support her lies that she was on a lower income giving her entitlement to benefits, which totalled more than £10,000.

Coker was not living in the Croydon Council property involved, which has since been recovered and she has had to give up the privately rented Surbiton property involved.

The court also noted that as a result of the conviction Coker would most likely lose her employment as a property manager with a lettings agent.

The chair of the bench said he thought the sentencing was reasonable given the amount of time council officers spent on the case unravelling the “mess” Coker had created.

Related links

19 Sep 2011

Daily Mail on benefit frauds in court

Last Tuesday two events occurred within hours of one another that perfectly demonstrate the gulf between rhetoric and reality.

In London, the Prime Minister announced that benefits claimants who cannot speak English will be ordered to take language classes or have their handouts stopped for up to three years.

A hundred miles away in Birmingham, a 51-year-old woman by the name of Halima Hameed was being ushered into court number 18 at the city’s magistrates court.

The single mother was accused of working while claiming more than £9,000 in Income Support.

For the three magistrates who made up the panel hearing the case, the details were laid out as follows: Hameed has been claiming benefits since 1998, but in 2007 started work as a printing press operator, doing 36 hours a week. However, she did not inform the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of her new job.

Had she done so her benefits would have been stopped. Hameed would later claim in her defence that she did what she did only ‘because of the situation she found herself in’ — namely that her daughter and grandchild had moved back in, making money tight.

Such sob stories are familiar fodder to the magistrates. But what they were especially struck by as they browsed a pre-sentence report prepared on the legally-aided Hameed is the fact that she required the proceedings to be relayed to her by a Punjabi-speaking translator who sat by her side.

‘Miss Hameed has been in England since the age of six,’ Mary Small, chair of the bench, pointed out, ‘so why does she still need an interpreter?’

She is told (via the interpreter) that while Hameed understands English she ‘lacks confidence to express herself in it’.

‘After spending 12 years in our education system?’ Mrs Small responded incredulously.

That acute observation aside, Mrs Small gets on with sentencing. She is told that Hameed, who has admitted the offence, has started paying back the money she claimed fraudulently. But because she is no longer working, illegally or legally, the repayments come from the Income Support she is still allowed to claim. At the current rate of £40 a month, it will take more than 18 years to clear the debt.

On top of that Hameed is sentenced to a 12-month community order — where the criminal serves time in the community, under the supervision of a probation officer, rather than in prison. Miss Hameed was also ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work and told to pay costs of £100.

So you see, Mr Cameron, it is not simply the case that there are those claiming benefits who cannot speak English; there are those claiming benefits who cannot speak English but are perfectly happy to rip off the system. And, to add further insult to injury, when they are caught they are then able to milk the same system further as they attempt to mitigate their criminal behaviour.

As for ‘getting tough’, there was precious little sign of that in Birmingham. In the 18 cases I witnessed on that single day it was alleged that a total of £160,000 had been cheated out of the benefits system. But not one of those attending court was jailed.

The nearest to prison any defendant came was Lesley Barrett, 39, who over a decade had claimed Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit as a single mother when, in fact, her partner lived with her.

As a result of the deceit she had received some £60,000 in benefits to which she was not entitled.

Despite the sum involved, Barrett was given a suspended prison sentence after a judge at Birmingham Crown Court was told that she had to care for her two epileptic daughters.

The re-payment arrangement for Barrett, as with the other defendants, had been made prior to her arriving in court. In most cases, all fraudulent claims will be paid in instalments from their future benefits.

While a sympathetic view needs to be taken in some cases, Barrett’s case also serves to reinforce the feeling that whatever a Government promises to do to reform the benefits system, there is always something that stops it being put in to action on the ground.

Benefit fraud is now so widespread that it costs the country more than £1 billion a year.

What became apparent from the stream of cases I witnessed during the day I spent at court in Birmingham this week is that many of those who plead guilty to the offence commit benefit fraud out of greed and opportunity — not survival.

Here’s how the day unfolded — case by case.

10:00

First in front of the magistrates of Court number 18 is 42-year-old Aklis Uddin. He has pleaded guilty to claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance while having savings of £20,000 in a bank account — an amount that makes him ineligible to claim the benefit.

The money, he said, came from his mother to pay for repairs to his house. But instead he placed it in a savings account and failed to declare it. The court is told he has already paid back the £5,385 and his lawyer says he has accepted what he did was ‘dishonest’. He walks from the court with a nine-month community order.

10:25

Uddin’s younger brother Kamal, 34, is also charged with a similar offence. But he does not turn up and the court is told he is in Bangladesh looking after his seriously-ill mother. Apparently, Uddin junior has promised to return within six weeks. The court issues a warrant, which means he will be picked up the minute he returns to the country.

10:30

Next up it is the case of Halima Hameed (see above), who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to working while claiming Income Support.

11:00

Safina Begum, 26, follows — facing three charges that accuse her of having married in 2009 and of failing to tell the DWP of this change in her circumstances. This would have affected her right to claim Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Income Support.

As such, it is alleged that she had fraudulently claimed £10,127.61. Begum denies the allegations. She turns down the option of a trial in the magistrates court, opting instead to go to the crown court.

11:20

The final case of the morning in the magistrates court is that of Aqeel Abid. At an earlier hearing the 22-year-old has admitted working while receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance. Miss Gurminder Sanghera, prosecuting, outlines how Abid started claiming benefits in January 2008, after stating that he had no other source of income. In fact, he had been working as a manager in his father’s curry restaurant.

Interviewed by DWP investigators, it was put to Abid that he had bought a house in the same year he started signing on. He had made a mortgage application for £124,000, stating in the documentation that he was earning £27,500 a year at the restaurant.

The investigator then advised him he had been under surveillance and he had been observed serving, waiting and cooking in the restaurant.

In total it was calculated that Abid had fraudulently claimed £5,673.09. As well as having to pay back the money at a rate of £50 a month he is given a 12-month community sentence and ordered to do 80 hours unpaid work.

12:00

While the magistrates’ court breaks for lunch, over in the city’s crown court the sentencing of Lesley Barrett is coming to a conclusion.

The case is being heard there because of the large sum — £60,253.93 — involved. Barrett had claimed Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit as a single mother since 2001 when her partner lived with her. It was established that he paid for her Sky TV, phone bill and for holidays abroad with her children.

Sentencing, Judge Philip Parker QC says she is avoiding a custodial sentence only because jailing her would deprive her sick children of the ‘assistance’ and ‘security’ she provided.

14:00

Back to the magistrates and a quick adjournment in the case of Kelly Neale. The 26-year-old is accused of living with her partner while claiming Income Support.

Her lawyers argue that the figures suggest she might have actually claimed less, rather than more, than she was entitled to. Further inquiries are ordered to be made by the DWP.

14:15

Next is the case of Ann Chin, 57, who hobbles in to court with a stick, weeping. It is alleged that from 2002 she had dishonestly claimed £24,372.35 in Disability Allowance.

The court hears that when making her initial claim Mrs Chin said she suffered from diabetes and injuries sustained in a car accident, which meant she needed ‘constant supervision and care’. But it is alleged she actually had a job as a care worker and used her daughter’s National Insurance number.

Mrs Chin pleads not guilty to two charges and the case is adjourned for a crown court trial.

14:40

Dreadlocked Terry Kellyman, 49, follows and his case is quickly dealt with as he pleads guilty to working while claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. He had fraudulently claimed £2,781.84. He receives a conditional discharge for 12 months and is ordered to pay £100 costs.

15:00

Another guilty plea this time from 56-year-old Fazal Ahmed. The magistrates hear how he failed to tell the DWP about a ‘change in circumstances’ that meant he had too much capital to be eligible for Income Support. ‘Evidence became available that showed Mr Ahmed became the owner of a second home,’ said prosecutor Miss Sanghera. ‘There is no evidence of this being declared.’

In all the claim was put at £4,899.99. Ahmed’s solicitor speaks of his ‘regret’ and ‘remorse’. Now claiming Incapacity Benefit, he is fined £65 with costs of £115.

Asked how he intends to pay off that sum, Ahmed replies: ‘I will pay it with a cheque.’

15:25

Representing herself, barmaid Linda Brueton, 41, pleads guilty to working while claiming benefits. The court is told she first began claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in November 2007, despite the fact she had a job in a social club. In all she dishonestly claimed £5,435.81.

‘I know it was wrong,’ she tells the court, as she pleads guilty. Her case is adjourned for a pre-sentence report.

15:40

Next up is Amanda Matthews, 27. She faces two charges of failing to notify the DWP that she was living with a partner while claiming Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit as a single parent.

Evidence of the co-habitation was supported by the fact that the man in question had made a loan application from their house and that he was paying their Sky television subscription.

In all, Matthews has fraudulently claimed £8,634.09. She pleads guilty and the case is adjourned for a pre-sentence report.

15:55

Other cases fail to progress at all, wasting the court’s time and the public’s money.

Arminder Gill arrives without his solicitor, who he says was unable to make it to the hearing. The 31-year-old is accused of having excess capital which lead to him wrongly claiming some £10,000 over six years. The case is adjourned for a fortnight and Mr Gill told to be at the court on the day in question no later than 9.30am.

‘Could it be later?’ he asked. ‘My bus pass isn’t valid until after 9.30.’

The answer from the panel?

‘No.’

16:00

Three more cases are dealt with in the absence of the defendants. One has rung in sick and two had not replied to summonses. Warrants are issued for the arrest of the two who cannot be contacted.

16:05

At 60, Robert Gates is the oldest benefits cheat of the day.

He leaves court with a £235 fine and costs of £115 having admitted failing to declare savings of more than £50,000 when claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in 2009. That had led to a fraudulent claim of £2,526.30, which he had since repaid.

16:15

The final case of the day is that of 24-year-old Osama Alaubaib. Originally from Sudan, he arrived in this country six years ago and yet at court on Tuesday is unable to speak or understand English.

His case is delayed after an Arabic-speaking translator twice booked by the court fails to show up.

When one finally arrives, the court was told how Alaubaib had been working when claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for three years.

When interviewed, he said he believed he was allowed to work for 16 hours a week without telling the DWP. He pleads guilty and is fined £100 with costs of £115.

‘Why do I have to pay money to the court as well?’ he asks, through the interpreter.

He had, the court is told, already started paying back the £2,825.75. So far he had managed £5.

And with that he headed out into Birmingham city centre.

One day, one city, 18 cases, involving tens of thousands of pounds worth of fraud — no wonder Mr Cameron is worried.

16 Sep 2011

The complex enforcement process

A High Wycombe woman has been convicted on two charges of benefit fraud.

Lynne Pleaden had been claiming Housing Benefit and Job Seekers Allowance based on her being unemployed.

However, a joint investigation by the investigation teams of Wycombe District Council and The Department for Work and Pensions showed that she had started work in April 2009 and had failed to declare this fact.

As a result, between April 2009 and April 2010, she obtained over £4,000 of Housing Benefit and over £1,500 Job Seekers Allowance that she was not entitled to,

Mrs Pleaden was given a 12 month Community Order and ordered to pay £300 costs.

Recovery of the fraudulently obtained benefit is being pursued as a separate matter.
  • Benefit thieves should have to repay twice what they've stolen, and should not be eligible for any further benefits – including tax credits - until they have. A confiscation order should be automatic and immediate.

    Keep the process simple.

15 Sep 2011

A fishy story

A benefits cheat who claimed he could barely walk was caught walking round a fishing lake without a problem.

Clive Hunt, 55, from Knowle West, was claiming thousands of pounds a year from the state on the basis that he had severe mobility problems.

But as he kept an improvement in his condition quiet from social services, he ended up getting £14,327.20 more than he should have been entitled to.

At North Somerset Magistrates' Court, Hunt admitted not informing them of a change in his circumstances, namely that his physical mobility had improved.

Between March 28, 2007, and March 23, 2010, he was overpaid £14,327.20.

The court heard that Mr Hunt was involved in a car crash in 1990 which was so serious he was paralysed and had to have two metal rods inserted in his spine.

Over the years, his mobility improved and eventually the rods were taken out, but he was still unable to work and found getting around very difficult.

From 2003, he was getting the higher rate of mobility allowance and the medium rate of care allowance from the state.

Prosecuting for the Department for Work and Pensions, Victoria Ellis said the 55-year-old was filmed walking without a stick or any other walking aid at a fishing lake near Bristol, where he had been a volunteer bailiff.

Filmed on the morning of November 27, 2009, it shows him locking up his car and walking freely, with what appear to be a pair of wellies in his left hand. He had also been seen elsewhere walking unaided, she told the magistrates.

Hunt, whose last conviction of any kind was in 1976, has started paying back the money he owes, with £146.40 already returned.

He arrived at court with a walking stick, along with his family.

Jane Chamberlain, mitigating, said from 2003 her client had great difficulties walking and could not go outside unaccompanied.

She said: "He definitely has good days and bad days. Some days he can walk OK, other days he cannot walk at all."

Ms Chamberlain told magistrates he had not been deliberately dishonest. He thought the benefits he was getting were for life and he was not aware he had to update the Department for Work and Pensions with any improvements in his mobility.

She added the work that he was doing had been unpaid.

Magistrates imposed a six-month community order, including a three-month curfew, seven days per week, 8pm-8am.

He was also ordered to pay £100 costs out of his benefits and must continue to repay the £14,237.20 he should not have received.

Tim Stroud, Bristol senior investigations manager for DWP, said: "Benefit thieves take money from people who need it the most and are costing the taxpayer almost £1 billion per year.

"Welfare reforms will simplify the benefits system and make it much easier to detect and catch these criminals."

14 Sep 2011

A visitor asks

I'm an English ex-pat living in Florida, and I'm currently pursuing a career as a clinical psychologist.

For the last year, I have been working for a local psychologist as her assistant. One of my duties, in fact the bulk of my work, involves interviewing claimants for Social Security Disability benefits, which is much like Incapacity Benefits. Typically, these claimants are only sent to us if there is a need to determine any presenting psychiatric issues. I take a biopsychosocial history, and then the psychologist performs a mental status examination.

The reason I'm contacting you is that I have noticed a definite trend among a certain population. I'm sure you're very much aware of it, especially being in the UK. This trend is related to a "culture of disability", not connected to legitimate disability, but more so the fraud by misrepresentation. It would seem that when I have someone with a criminal background and/or alcohol and substance abuse issues and presenting with a desire to claim an unverified mental issue such as ADHD or bipolar disorder, invariably someone in their immediate vicinity (typically a parental figure or significant other) is already claiming disability and is pushing the claimant to obtain it for themselves.

I have having some difficulty locating material on this phenomena. I realise that it is similar to other forms of cultural transmission, such as criminality in prison and the like, but my question to you is this: Are you aware of any authors or studies into the concept of obtaining benefits as a career, and more importantly, the mentoring of the uninitiated by the experienced? To me, more so because of my current immersion in it, it seems like a subculture and less of a simple example of how something is passed along, culturally. I definitely remember this kind of attitude and behaviour from people I knew as I grew up in the U.K.

"Glamour" model was benefit thief

A glamour model from East Sussex who admitted claiming more than £7,000 in benefits while presenting raunchy television channels has been fined.

Dionne Stenner, 29, earned a salary working under the stage name Morgan James while fronting X-rated programmes.

Brighton and Hove Magistrates ordered Stenner, of The Drive, Hove, to pay costs and fines totalling £1,315.

Outside court, the mother-of-two said she was "mortified" by her actions.

That would be getting caught...?


She said: "I come from a nice family and this is something that I regret. I have not tried to hide anything."

Well, I think she's dealt with the family's reputation.

The court heard she received up to £350 for each night presenting and earned £18,000 working between between March and October last year.

Stenner admitted failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions and Brighton and Hove City Council about the change in her financial circumstances.

Prosecutor Jessica Clarke said Stenner illegally claimed a total of £7,782 in housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support.

Her crimes came to light after she was shopped by her former boyfriend, the court heard.

13 Sep 2011

Welfare benefits to be paid monthly, say ministers

Many welfare benefits will paid monthly in an effort to prepare people for the world of work, ministers have said.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith wants the new "all in one" Universal Credit to move away from a system of mainly fortnightly payments.

The government has revealed the plans in a raft of extra detail about its shake-up of the benefits system.

It comes as a Commons watchdog has questioned if the government's £2.7bn welfare savings plan is achievable.

The Welfare Reform Bill, currently passing through Parliament, introduces a Universal Payment to replace six income-related work-based benefits, such as child tax credit and income support.

There will also be stricter rules for people losing their benefits if they refuse a job.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said paying benefits every four weeks would help "smooth the transition into work".

"With 75% of people in work being paid monthly, ministers believe it is sensible that benefits are paid in the same manner," said the spokesman.

The bill has been criticised by some campaigners who believe vulnerable people could be made worse off, but the government insists its aim is to reduce benefit fraud.

Even if approved, it is thought the changes - the most radical for 60 years - could take 10 years to fully come into effect.

Meanwhile, the Commons spending watchdog has questioned whether the Department for Work and Pensions can make its planned £2.7bn of savings by 2015.

The DWP, the government's biggest spending department, plans to make 50% of savings by April 2012.
'High risk'

But the public accounts committee said it "lacks a clear plan" to make savings and is relying on a new IT system and "optimistic" assumptions.

The DWP said it had a clear commitment to making the savings on time.

All government departments, with the exception of health and international development, face four-year budget cuts as part of the government's plans to tackle the UK's budget deficit.

In its report, the public accounts committee highlighted "high risk" areas in the DWP's planned savings.

It said the government's flagship plan to replace six income-related work-based benefits with one "universal credit" from 2013 is dependent on a new IT system linked to HM Revenue and Customs which was being delivered to a "very tight timetable".

"This committee's experience is that such projects are rarely delivered to time, budget and specification, and any delays could put the department's ability to deliver savings at risk," said committee chairman Margaret Hodge.

She added that they were also concerned about the "optimistic assumption" by the DWP that, in future, 80% of people using JobCentre Plus would deal with their claims online - although the percentage was currently only 17%.

Any delay in either area was "likely to impact on planned cost reductions", the report said.

Mrs Hodge said the DWP should "assess the main risks" to making the savings and "develop sufficient contingencies".

The DWP said it would respond formally "in due course" but a spokesman said they had a "clear" commitment to making the savings.

He added: "We've already exceeded the target set in the June 2010 Budget to reduce our running costs by £535m in 2010-11 and we have a transformation programme in place to make sustainable cost reductions over the rest of this Parliament.

"We've learned from our experiences in the past in delivering IT services and Universal Credit will be delivered on time in 2013."

We can't punish thieves who are mothers

A Birmingham mother of four who falsely claimed more than £77,000 in benefits, lavishing cash on holidays to exotic locations including Florida, has avoided being jailed.

Sharon Kirkpatrick was handed a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay £250 costs and carry out community service after the court was told she had to look after her autistic son.

Kirkpartrick had claimed she was unemployed while she was secretly earning money working for Whitbreads brewery.

Birmingham Crown Court was told that she enjoyed regular foreign holidays, including at least two to Florida, despite claiming she was impoverished.

Judge Rupert Mayo said: “Most right thinking people regard holidays abroad as luxuries” and said that the sole reason he was not sending Kirkpatrick to prison immediately was because she had an autistic son she had to look after.

Kirkpatrick, who had previously admitted three charges of failing to notify a change of circumstances, was sentenced to 52 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years.

The defendant was also ordered to do 220 hours unpaid work and pay £250 costs.

Laura Hobson, prosecuting at Birmingham Crown Court, said Kirkpatrick had been claiming income support and housing and council tax benefits since 1990 on the basis she was a single parent with no other income.

She said a condition of her receiving the benefits was that she notify the Department of Work and Pensions or Birmingham City Council if there was a change in her circumstances.

Miss Hobson said the defendant failed to reveal that in 2003 her partner and father of her four children began living with her.

Various evidence was obtained to confirm this including proof that both of them had been on holiday at the same time in Florida.

Kirkpatrick had completed a number of forms over the six-year period of the fraud when she failed to declare she was with her partner Mr Anthony Fellows.

It also came to light, she said, that from the end of 2008 Kirkpatrick had been working at Whitbreads for 20 hours a week at £5.23 an hour which was in excess of the permitted amount.

When interviewed Kirkpatrick admitted she had been working and had gone on the holidays but denied Mr Fellows was living with her.

Tom Challinor, defending, said “Kirkpatrick has not had an easy life. She has spent the last 20 years or so bringing up her children and has found it difficult to make ends meet.”

He said that her now ex-partner was a drug addict, alcoholic and gambler and, although there were periods of time he was around, there were others when he was away from the family home.

Mr Challinor said Mr Fellows had taken out loans, spending the money on drink and drugs and that Kirkpatrick had been left to “pick up the pieces”.

He claimed money spent on the holidays to Florida had come from the sale of Mr Fellows’s father’s house and it had not been a case of the defendant living an extravagant lifestyle.

She is a deliberate, long term thief.

12 Sep 2011

You call this rigorous enforcement?

A Woodbridge man who dishonestly claimed over £7,000 of benefits after failing to disclose his county council pension has been given a 12 week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay £150 costs by magistrates in Ipswich.

Paul Cable had pleaded guilty after a routine data search revealed that he was receiving a pension from Suffolk County Council that he had not mentioned when applying for benefits. He will now be supervised by the probation service for the next 12 months.

To what end?

“This case again reveals the folly of thinking that you can cheat the system and claim benefits to which you are not entitled. Our close working with the Department for Work and Pensions means that we are crossing-checking our records and finding those who have been deliberately economical with the truth,” said Cllr Mary Neale, Cabinet Member for Housing.

Er ... he got away with it for nearly three years, Mary. Are we proud of that detection?

“Anyone greedy and stupid enough to attempt to fraudulently claim benefits runs the very real risk of being caught, gaining a criminal record, appearing in the local media as a benefits cheat, and of course having to repay all that has been dishonestly claimed.

“We owe it to the massive majority of claimants who are receiving benefits to which they are rightly entitled to hunt down the few that are trying to take what is not theirs. By their actions they are not only cheating us all, but their efforts sully the benefits system and may even put off some people from trying to get vital cash help,” added Cllr Neale.

The court heard that between December 2007 and last year, Mr Cable had dishonestly received £4,897.70 of Housing Benefit, £1,303.80 of Council Tax benefit, and nearly £1,300 of benefits from the DWP, including Job Seeker and Incapacity payments.
  • Benefit thieves do it for the money. They should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole, and get no benefits until they have.

11 Sep 2011

Disabled blue badge fraudster belatedly fined

A 'skinflint' millionaire dentist has been prosecuted after using a disabled permit belonging to his business partner's dead father to park his £140,000 Ferrari for free.

Dr Chirag Patel, 33, used the blue badge outside one of his Perfect Smile dental practices in South London just to avoid the £15 a day charge.

Patel, who was unaware he was being filmed by council workers, admitted using the badge on six occasions in December 2009.

The dentist had traded in his Bentley for a bright-red Ferrari California convertible, making his £540 a year Wandsworth Council business parking permit invalid while it was transferred to the new vehicle.

He could have got a temporary permit to cover the transition period for free but instead used the disabled permit which had been invalid for around 16 months.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of misusing the badge but denied a charge of fraud, which was dropped by prosecutors just as his trial was due to begin at South Western Magistrates Court in Battersea.

District Judge Barnes fined him £700 and ordered him to pay £784 costs plus a £15 victim surcharge, amounting to £2,199. Must have been £700 on each of the two charges.

Paul Jarvis, prosecuting, said: 'This case concerns Dr Patel's misuse of a disabled blue badge, that badge having issued to the father of his business partner. The father passed away in 2008 and these offences are concerned with conduct occurring sometime thereafter.

'Another lawful way would have been to buy a parking ticket or to park in the multi storey around the corner which would have cost around £15 a day but for his own reasons Mr Patel chose not to use these methods.

'He will have to live with the consequences of his actions and no doubt if he had his time again he would have done things differently.'

The original decision to prosecute for fraud was made because of the 'premeditated' and 'repetitious' use of the badge and the damage that his actions had on public confidence in the scheme, Mr Jarvis said.

But the council decided it was no longer in the public interest because of character references, emails and letters of disgust Dr Patel had received from the public.

'Wandsworth Borough Council has taken the view after much careful consideration that it is no longer in the public interest to prosecute Dr Patel for the offence of possessing an article for use in fraud,' Mr Jarvis said.

Edward Henry, in mitigation for Patel, said: 'He expresses his remorse, shame and embarrassment at the matter.

'He has been branded a skinflint, a miser and a cheat. He has been mocked as a cheap skate worthy to be despised.

'This was an offence that was committed by a man who was not hungry for money, but hungry for time.

'He has sacrificed 700 days of piece of mind because he tried to avoid a trifling inconvenience.'

Prosecutors originally requested £6,400 in costs, an application that was not opposed, but this was £784 after District Judge Barbara Barnes said she could not order him to pay costs for the fraud charge which had been dropped.

She said: 'Perhaps you took up a space that might have been needed by someone who genuinely needed the blue badge because of their disability.'

Outside court Dr Patel, through his solicitor Riz Majid, welcomed the decision to drop the fraud charges and said he 'unreservedly apologises' to the public, the court and Wandsworth Borough Council.

He said that for seven years he had paid diligently for the borough's most expensive parking permit and was still paying the council when he committed the offences.

10 Sep 2011

The fat of the land

An obese benefit cheat had her case postponed because she could not squeeze into an old-fashioned courtroom.

Beverley Douglas – who admitted nearly £35,000 of fraud – claimed she could not get into the dock of Court One at Inner London Crown Court to face 13 charges.

Yesterday, after parking her red Dodge Avenger outside, the 43-year-old walked with a frame to a more modern courtroom to enter her guilty pleas to 11 of the counts – and was warned by the judge that she faced jail.

But she was not required to enter the dock by Judge Diana Faber, who allowed her to remain seated in the public gallery.

Her barrister, Abigail Penny, stood beside her indicating what her pleas should be, but Douglas was so short of breath her replies were barely audible.

Earlier, Miss Penny said as part of her mitigation that she would be presenting a hospital report on behalf of the fraudster, adding: ‘Miss Douglas is an extremely unwell woman.’

In May, Douglas told officials she could not climb the stairs to a narrow secure doorway leading to the dock of oak- panelled Court One, thought to have been built in the Edwardian era.

She sat outside while Judge Roger Chapple agreed to adjourn the hearing so she could appear in one of the court’s more modern rooms, which have wider doors.

Douglas, of Thornton Heath, South London, is accused of claiming £34,790 of state handouts while working as a bus driver and a CCTV officer.

She admitted nine counts of making a false representation and two of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances between March 15, 2004 and February 26, 2009.

The charges related to £17,071 of Income Support, £15,930 of Housing Benefit, and £1,787 of Council Tax benefit.

Between May 27, 2008, and February 26, 2009, she claimed handouts for two properties in Dunbar Avenue, Norbury, where she was not even living.

She denied two charges of making a false representation and was cleared by order of the judge after the prosecution offered no evidence.

They related to claims she lived at a hotel, which did not result in any losses to the council.

Allowing her bail on condition of residence in Brockley, South-East London, the judge adjourned the case for a mention on October 21.

The sentencing judge will hear the prosecution case opening, examine Douglas’s written basis of plea and decide whether a Newton Hearing, a trial without a jury, is necessary along with a pre-sentence report.

The judge warned that the sentencing guidelines meant that Douglas was ‘looking at custody’.

Focus on benefit fraud sentencing

The number of benefit fraudsters being jailed has halved in a decade with offenders typically being ordered to pay back just £200 each.

Only 209 of the 6,300 people convicted of stealing public cash last year were locked up. Yet the equivalent figures for 1999-2000 were 445 jailed from 8,768.

The main point though is that the number prosecuted is the tip of the iceberg.

This means that – even when £3.3billion is lost to theft and error every year – only 3 per cent of cheats lose their liberty.

Forty-two per cent of offenders were given community service orders and 17 per cent had a conditional discharge – effectively a slap on the wrist.

The remainder were fined or given suspended sentences.

Critics warned that without tougher penalties, fraudsters would carry on fleecing the taxpayer.

Matthew Elliott of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘It’s shocking that so few benefits cheats are facing serious punishment for their crimes. If crooks think the system is a light touch, with little or no consequences for being caught, then they will carry on fleecing the taxpayer without hesitation.

‘Tougher sentences will help to discourage would-be cheats but reforms to the system as a whole are also needed, to make it easier to detect scammers.’

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘Judges make their decisions independently of Government based on the facts of each case.

‘However, the Government will always push for the strongest possible sentence for benefit fraud and will always go to criminal court where it represents value for money to do so. The maximum penalty for fraud is ten years in prison.

‘We are also increasing our powers to recover money, sanction benefits and enforce additional financial penalties for those who flout this law.’
  • They do it for the money. So hit them where it hurts.

    Benefit thieves should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole, and get no benefits until they have.

    Any who don't go to prison should also have to do community service.

9 Sep 2011

Audit Commission council tax case studies

The Audit Commission reports results of some studies of single person council tax discount.

Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council


Norwich City carried out a joint working initiative with Norfolk County Council to investigate their NFI council tax to electoral register matches. The councils investigated over 1500 matches and identified nearly 850 households who were wrongly claiming the 25 per cent single person discount on their council tax bills. As a result the city council is recovering a total of £280,542, as well as preventing further losses being incurred had those erroneous discounts continued.

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council


By following up NFI matches between council tax and electoral registration data Solihull MBC identified a significant number of residents who had been receiving single person discount inappropriately. The council has not only withdrawn over £160,000 of discounts, but it has also investigated how long the discounts had been awarded wrongly. As a result it found that many residents had been wrongly receiving discounts for at least a year, some for over five years. These further investigations have enabled Solihull to identify an additional £90,000 for recovery.

Haringey Council


The NFI's council tax to electoral register data matching is primarily designed to identify inappropriate single person discounts. Haringey Council has not only found over 500 discounts that had been wrongly awarded but in some of these cases it has also identified significant overpayments of housing benefit. This has resulted in a number of individual cases where combined benefit and discount overpayments of between £2,000 and £5,000 are being recovered. This is a good example of council departments working together on NFI matches and has significantly contributed to increasing the council's tax base by nearly £1m from this exercise so far.

London Borough of Brent


As part of their investigations into their NFI Council Tax Single Person Discount matches the London Borough of Brent reviewed cases and visited some properties to confirm residency. As a result the council identified 1200 people who were wrongly claiming Single Person Discount, some fraudulently. They have identified council tax underpayments, for 2009/10 and previous years, of £800,000, which are now being recovered. It is also estimated that the Council Tax base has been increased by over £300,000.

A number of the matches highlighted related to local government employees. In one case, a relatively senior employee had failed to declare that he had been living with another person for three years. He had also failed to pay his Council Tax during this period so was in arrears. The single person discount obtained was in excess of £1,000, and is currently being recovered. Enquiries made as a result of the match led to the employee being dismissed for gross misconduct. As a result of this work the NFI Team are piloting this match at a number of Local Authorities. If this is successful it will be rolled out across the country.

8 Sep 2011

A plea from the public

Jackie writes:
I have reported a couple for benefit fraud, it has been going on for over a year now, and I know I am not the only one that has reported them, he works full time, lives with her, and she claims all the single parent benefits, it seems a waste of time reporting it as nothing gets done and they are still getting away with it.

7 Sep 2011

Tougher Benefit Fraud Move Leads To Row

A political row has followed a Stormont Minister's recent introduction of new, tougher laws to address the scourge of benefit fraud.

Following the launch of new, 'One Strike - and You're Out' laws to bar claimants from benefits if convicted of duping the system and claiming money they were not entitled to, the South Antrim Sinn Fein (SF) MLA, Mitchel McLaughlin has hit back.

He said that the Department of Social Development (DSD) Minister, Nelson McCausland - who represents the adjacent Belfast North constituency - should put as much effort into ensuring that individuals are properly informed about the benefits to which they are entitled and eliminating agency errors, "if he is genuinely interested in reforming the benefits system".

Mr McLaughlin's comments follow the DSD Minister McCausland's proposed new policy on benefit fraud.

The SF man said that errors are responsible for far larger losses than alleged benefit fraud and said: "There is up to £350m of unpaid benefits presently being returned to the British Treasury.

"This is money which, if paid to those entitled to it would be getting spent in the local economy, sustaining local businesses and securing jobs," he said.

The SF MLA also said that developing a system of identifying those entitled to receive benefits would be of more use that "chasing an alleged £10m of benefit fraud."


However, this assertion was subsequently challenged by DSD officials on behalf of the DUP Minister who underlined that the actual amount of benefit fraud is double that amount - £20m, in fact.

But Mr McLaughlin reinforced his call for more money to be paid out, adding: "This would be making a far greater contribution to removing people from the poverty trap than by threatening to push individuals and families into severe debt by stopping their entire benefits."

He said that the cost of the Minister's proposals would be better directed at making the benefit system more efficient.

He added this could be done by ensuring that clients receive their full entitlements and assistance to access 'upskilling' and retraining opportunities.

But again, a DSD spokesperson countered: "Providing 'upskilling and retraining opportunities' does not fall under the remit of the Department for Social Development."

She continued, adding: "The 'One Strike' regulations recently introduced will impact solely on those convicted of benefit fraud.

"DSD recognises that a number of people may not be claiming all the benefits to which they are entitled.

"However the Department has had a comprehensive benefit uptake strategy in place since 2005, which has resulted in additional Social Security benefits of over £37m being generated for people across Northern Ireland."

Rejecting the notion that "more could be done to ensure that clients receive their full entitlements" she added: "This year the Department has invested £1.3m into its 2011/12 Benefit Uptake Programme, which includes new and additional funding of £400,000 for two new strands of work."

But the republican politician insisted: "In the present economic climate of rising costs for everything from food to gas and oil more people are finding it impossible to live on benefits.

"While I accept that there are a minority of individuals who defraud the system the vast majority of people on benefits would prefer to be in employment and that is where the focus should be."

"Rather than penalise people on benefits it would be more prudent to give people more opportunities and advice on how they could legally subsidise their benefits while finding their way back into work," he concluded.

6 Sep 2011

Jail for calculated benefit theft

A woman who claimed £83,237 in benefits despite having more than £94,000 in the bank has been jailed for a year.

Jenifer Nyambura Francis, formerly of Tippett Rise, Katesgrove, was sentenced at Oxford Crown Court on August 3.

She was convicted of receiving £33,214 in income support, £47,685 in housing benefit and £2,338 in council tax benefit.

The 37-year-old is now due to go before a judge at the same court in January for a proceeds of crime hearing. The judge could decide to confiscate all of her assets derived from any criminal activity to repay the falsely claimed benefits as quickly as possible.

The court should be able to do that when it sentences her.

In the meantime, Reading Borough Council is making arrangements for her to pay regular contributions to recover the outstanding housing and council tax benefit debts.

Francis was granted income support in 2003 after claiming she was a single parent with no means of financial support.

In 2005, she claimed her circumstances hadn’t changed.

During this time, she also claimed housing benefit and told the council and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) she only had one bank account.

When the council and DWP investigated, it was discovered Francis had been working for various people over the years and had been receiving a bursary as a full-time student after starting a diploma in mental health nursing at Birmingham City University.

The investigation also uncovered she had four undisclosed bank accounts, with credits totalling more than £94,000.

And where did that money come from?

She had also bought a property in Wroxham, Bracknell, without disclosing that fact and rented it out without disclosing the income, either.

Benefit cheats can be fined up to £5,000 and sentenced to six months imprisonment by magistrates, or the crown court has no limit on a fine and can order seven years behind bars.
  • Clearly the prospect of detection and punishment was no deterrent.

    Benefit thieves should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole, and get no benefits until they have.

5 Sep 2011

No real punishment for deliberate housing fraud

An Amman Valley man has been given a suspended prison sentence for fraudulently claiming almost £20,000 Housing Benefit.

Noel John Rogers, age 64, pleaded guilty at Llanelli Magistrates Court to offences contrary to Section 112 Social Security Administration Act 1992.

Rogers claimed Housing Benefit from May 2000 at his home in Cwmamman Road, Glanamman, a privately rented property.

An investigation into his benefit claim was made following a suspicion that he had failed to declare ownership of another property. Enquiries revealed that he had been the owner of a property in Parc Bryn Rhos, Glanamman, since November 1996. It was also established that he had been in receipt of a British Coal Board Pension since April 2000.

An Inspection of his Benefit records showed that Rogers had failed to declare that he owned another property or that he received a private pension.

As a result of failing to declare his correct circumstances, Rogers was overpaid Housing Benefit of £19,914 from May 8, 2000 to February 27, 2011.

Rogers was sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years with a requirement that he be subject to a curfew from 8pm to 8am for three months. He was also ordered to pay costs of £419.60.
  • Benefit thieves should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole, and get no benefits until they have.

    Any who don't go to prison should also have to do community service.

4 Sep 2011

More possible benefit reforms

Plans to withdraw child-benefit payments to parents of youngsters who play truant from school are being considered by the Government, reports the Daily Mail.

Good. But persistent truants should have any entitlement to benefits in their own right postponed too.

It's part of the deal that you get a free education and make yourself employable. If you reject the education, don't expect taxpayers to subsidise you when you officially leave school.

2 Sep 2011

Fraud recoveries in Derbyshire Dales

During the financial year 2010/11 Derbyshire Dales District Council’s investigation staff were able to recover £62,072 lost to the public purse as fraudulently claimed benefit, the Buxton Advertiser tells us.

During the year they paid out £16,917,794. So their zero tolerance policy on Housing Benefits and Council Tax Benefit fraud recovered 0.4% of the total paid out. It surely didn't pay their salaries.

Another "landlord" turns out to be a husband

A mum-of-five fraudulently claimed £20,000 in benefits by pretending her husband was an unrelated landlord.

Shima Das said she had no relation to the man who owned her house in Chadderton to get support for housing and council tax.

But the owner of the property, on Dunster Close, was in fact her husband Arshad Mahmood.

In total, Das claimed £18,000 in housing and nearly £2,000 in council tax benefit between April 2006 and October 2009.

What's been happening since then?

She and Mr Mahmood had married in June 2004 and had twin daughters together two years later.

Tameside magistrates heard that the couple had wed after pressure from Miss Das’s family and that it was only briefly a ‘genuine relationship’.

Mr Mahmood let her carry on living at the house when she became pregnant with his twin daughters and would periodically stay there with them.

But, on a benefit form, Miss Das failed to declare she was related to him or that he was the father of two of her children.

Magistrates were told that Miss Das has a history of mental health problems and also has three older children – two of whom have disabilities.

She had shown ‘genuine remorse and contrition’ and had already begun repaying the money at £100 a month, the court heard.

Das, 33, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to obtain benefits.

She was released on unconditional bail and is due to reappear before magistrates for sentencing next month.

A case against Mr Mahmood, of aiding or abetting a false statement, was withdrawn.
  • Benefit thieves should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole, and get no benefits until they have.

    Any who don't go to prison should also have to do community service.

1 Sep 2011

Parents get away with theft

A Sunderland woman who dishonestly claimed more than £34,000 in benefits has been given a 12-month community order.

Ann Marie Kerr fraudulently-claimed Income Support and Housing and Council Tax Benefit between September 2006 and January 2010.

The 47-year-old claimed the benefits as a single parent but failed to declare that she had married Ian Kerr.

The crime was uncovered by a joint investigation by Sunderland City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions.

She pleaded guilty to two charges of dishonestly failing to promptly report a chance of circumstance in order to obtain benefit at Newcastle Crown Court.

Mr Kerr, 51, a fireman, also pleaded guilty to one offence of failing to promptly report a change of circumstance.

He was declared as being the landlord in respect of her Housing Benefit and received payments in respect of Mrs Kerr.

However he failed to declare that he had married Mrs Kerr in September 2006 and continued to receive the Housing Benefit payments.

They must now repay the money.

Right. I'm sure they will, and promptly.

His Honour Judge Guy Whitburn took account of the financial impact on them of their monthly repayments of £200 towards the overpaid total.

He also noted that a custodial sentence would impact upon their child.

So we can't really punish them. Done for a deliberate, large benefit fraud over several years? Get a child. That protects the thieving scum from any real punishment.

Mrs Kerr was given a 12-month community order with 100 hours of unpaid work. Mr Kerr received a conditional discharge for six months.

Malcolm Page, executive director of commercial and corporate services for Sunderland City Council, said:
Claiming benefits not due to you is a crime and takes money away from the delivery of essential public services.

We have a dedicated team who track down, investigate and prosecute benefit fraud.
Fine words butter no parsnips. What did Mr Page think of the sentence?