17 Oct 2013

Why enforcement will never keep up with benefit frauds

The Ripley & Heanor News reports on a benefit fraud case which shows why the authorities will never be able to prosecute all benefit thieves. They simply don't have enough enforcement staff.

A Ripley woman swindled a total of £35,386 in benefits by failing to declare her partner was working and living with her.

Anne-Marie Keeling was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for 18 months, made the subject of an 18-month supervision order and must carry out 180 hours of unpaid work, after appearing at Derby Crown Court.

Keeling pleaded guilty to two counts of benefit fraud between June, 2008, and October, 2012, contrary to section 111A(1A) and (3) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

A borough Council spokesperson said:
These offences were for failing to notify Amber Valley Borough Council and the Department for Work and Pensions of a change in her circumstances which she knew would affect her claim to income support and housing and council-tax benefit. Namely, that she was living together in the same household with her partner, as husband and wife.
Keeling initially made a claim for housing and council tax benefit in February, 2006. At the time she was in receipt of income support, which is a ‘passported’ benefit, meaning that she automatically qualified to receive housing and council-tax benefit.

The council was alerted to the fraud by an anonymous phone call to the Benefits Fraudline. 
The council’s Benefits Investigation Unit started a joint investigation with the Department for Work and Pensions Fraud Investigation Service.

Substantial evidence was gathered during the lengthy investigation and sent to an 
independent adjudicator who decided that her claim to benefits was fraudulent and that she had been overpaid state benefits.

In October 2012 she was
 invited into Amber Valley 
Borough Council’s offices to be interviewed under caution, on tape. She admitted to dishonestly claiming state benefits.

Mark Griffiths, benefits manager at Amber Valley Borough Council, told the court:
This was a substantial fraud, taking place over four years and had it not been for an anonymous allegation could have continued for several more years. 
We hope this prosecution sends out a clear message that we will work closely with our partners to take action against anyone who tries to cheat and steal from the public purse.
First, note that single person fraud is very simple. You just live with someone but tell the council you don't. It was only the anonymous tip-off that alerted the council.

The council then undertook what is described as a "lengthy" investigation. Even then the results were sent to an adjudicator.

Ms Keeling admitted the offences when she was interviewed. Even after that, her guilty plea took a further year to come to court.

With the huge numbers of people moving on and off benefits, the small number of enforcement staff have no chance of checking all possible cases of benefit fraud, let alone pursuing them through this tortuous enforcement process.

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