14 Apr 2014

Fenland District Council updates on benefit fraud

Eight benefit cheats have been successfully prosecuted in the past year and six more cases are in the pipeline as Fenland District Council continues to pursue suspected fraud.

The amount of overpayments identified in those 14 cases comes to more than £160,000.

More than 90 individuals have also been issued with formal cautions or had their benefits reduced or ended following intervention by council investigators. Anyone guilty of making a fraudulent claim has to repay the money owed in full.

Two of the most recent cases that have gone to court have led to suspended 
prison sentences.

In February Rachel Richardson, from Wisbech St Mary, was sentenced to eight months in jail, suspended for 12 months, after pleading guilty to dishonestly claiming more than £31,000 in Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Income Support over more than three years. Between December 2009 and January 2013 she had claimed the benefits as a single parent, saying that her partner had left her and gone to live in Yorkshire. But a detailed investigation carried out by the council and the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that the couple were living together throughout that time.

Two weeks ago, Martin Lacey, from March, also received a suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to dishonestly claiming more than £16,000 in Housing benefit and Council Tax Benefit between September 2008 and April 2013. He was given a suspended prison sentence of three months for each offence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay a contribution of £200 towards costs and £80 victim surcharge. He will also be required to undergo 12 months of supervision.

Mr Lacey originally claimed the benefits from a rented property after selling his former home in 2007 for more than £60,000. He was told then that he did not qualify for benefits because his capital exceeded £16,000. In September 2008 he made another claim, saying his capital had dropped to £1,200, and this time he was successful. The claim continued to be paid until 2011, when it was reviewed.

The review revealed that he had twice paid a large amount of rent in advance. Questioned where this money had come from, he said he had borrowed it from his mother and he was paying her back when he got his Housing Benefit payments. The investigation also showed that, although he had only ever declared one building society account, he had in fact held several and that his capital had exceeded £16,000 throughout much of his claim. He said he had not declared the accounts because he didn’t know he had to, nor did he know about the £16,000 capital limit.

Cllr Michael Humphrey, FDC’s Cabinet member responsible for finance and benefits, said: “These prosecutions show how seriously we take benefit fraud and how thoroughly we investigate any suspected cases. There is a lot of public money involved. However, it is not just about prosecutions - they are a last resort. Our primary focus is on tackling any suspicious cases early, nipping things in the bud and preventing overpayments being made in the first place.”

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