30 Apr 2014

Councils announce benefit fraud numbers

Nearly £400,000 has been recouped from benefit cheats from parts of Staffordshire. Benefit fraud investigators in Burntwood and Lichfield have carried out 219 investigations in the past year. There have also been a total of 14 prosecutions and 36 penalties. A total of £399,708 has been collected, which is up from £135,259 in the previous year.

Swansea Council has uncovered more than £500,000 of benefit fraud in the last year. Between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014, the council's benefits investigation team uncovered a total of £502,872 of benefit fraud. That included £434,591 of housing benefit, £56,197 of council tax benefit and £12,082 of council tax reduction. And by working with the DWP in joint cases, they found fraudulent claims, in a range of other benefits, amounting to £246,005. That total amount, of £748,877, is down on previous years. During the previous year, the council's team helped uncover more than £1.1million of fraud being committed in the area.

This year's efforts saw 180 people punished for benefit fraud. Of those, 69 found themselves in either the magistrates or crown court, another 17 received an administrative penalty and 94 accepted a caution. They were caught by a variety of methods, including tip-offs from the public, data-matching exercises to check what a person was being given to live off and what they were spending as well as training for staff and joint-working with teams from the DWP.

Reading Borough Council discovered more than half a million pounds in overpayment of benefits due to fraud last year. The team looked into 533 cases of alleged council tax and housing benefit frauds between April 1, last year and mid-March this year. They found 75 cases of overpayment and calculated the level of fraud at £556,693.

Last year, this led to 20 prosecutions, 31 sanctions, one caution and 10 administrative penalties. Of the 31 sanctioned cases, the total overpayment came to £282,200. A sanction can be either a prosecution, official caution or an administrative penalty, that is a fine. There are still 133 investigations under way in this financial year running on from last year.

In 2013, Reading Borough Council looked into 33 potential housing and tenancy frauds. So far, four properties rented fraudulently have been recovered by the council and a further three are awaiting legal action.

The investigation team also looked into six further referrals from social landlords, which resulted in two properties being recovered and another awaiting legal action.

The council estimated these actions saved the public purse £108,000 by allowing a number of families in genuine housing need to be released from temporary housing – costing £18,000 a year – and placed in permanent accommodation.

Since last September, the investigation team has stepped up to undertake verification of all new tenants for the housing service before they move in.

The team has verified 490 applicants, with 11 subjected to more detailed investigations. From these probes, one person has received an administrative penalty under housing benefit regulations, three cases are being considered by the council’s legal services and one is awaiting a hearing at Reading Magistrates Court. The investigation team has also begun proactive checks on the occupancy of 270 properties.

Investigators had looked into 51 referrals in connection with the disabled parking Blue Badge scheme. Two badges have been recovered, two fraudulent badge-holders referred to other local authorities and four referred to Reading’s legal department. One was prosecuted and the badge removed and three people received fixed penalties and warnings. Three investigations are continuing.

Business rate relief which applies to organisations like charity shops and community amateur sports clubs are all being checked and the council hopes to recover £80,000 in “wrongly applied exemption” as a result of the investigations. The team is also working with the electoral services staff to cross check for any potential election fraud and postal voting issues.

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