14 May 2014

Our broken down benefit fraud systems

A benefit fraudster has been found guilty of falsely claiming housing benefit on a property he had moved out of two years earlier, reports the Hinckley Times (h/t Dave).

Jason Simpson, 30, now of Great Russell Street, Northampton, appeared at Leicester Magistrates’ Court on April 25 charged with two counts of fraud committed against Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council.

Simpson had originally claimed benefit from Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council to help him to pay the rent on his home in Newbold Verdon.

A subsequent investigation by the council’s fraud team proved that claims that he’d made from July 2010 to November 2012 had been completely false.

The investigation showed that when he moved away from the area in July 2010, Mr Simpson didn’t tell the council about his move and continued to pocket the housing benefit payments for more than two years after he originally moved out.

When the council’s benefit team asked Simpson about his residency in July 2011, he provided a statement assuring officers that he was still living at the address.

When he appeared in court, Simpson admitted that because he’d failed to tell the council about his change of address, his housing benefit claims had been false from July 2010 to November 2012 and that he had dishonestly made a false statement about his residency in July 2011. In all, Simpson received £7,287 in housing benefit to which he wasn’t entitled.

The magistrates decided that the offences committed by Mr Simpson were serious – a fact that was aggravated by both offences being committed during a period of conditional discharge for a previous offence.

Serious offences, then - so what did the magistrates do?

They sentenced Jason Simpson to nine weeks custody, suspended for 12 months. In addition, he was ordered to complete 160 hours of unpaid work and to pay £50 costs plus a £80 victim surcharge – all of which are in addition to him having to repay the £7,287 in overpaid housing benefit.

Speaking after the case, the council’s fraud team leader Claire Webber said:
When claiming benefits, all customers must promptly report changes to the council and must tell the truth about their circumstances. As a result of Mr Simpson doing neither of these things, he now has a criminal record and a hefty overpayment to repay.
Did he not have a criminal record anyway?
The council has a zero tolerance approach to allegations of benefit fraud and works together with the Jobcentre and other local authorities to stamp out fraud.
As Dave points out, they didn't work very hard at combatting this particular fraud. He reasonably asks
The issue was, if the person had left the property two years ago, I suspect the new tenants were paying council tax in a different name! So why don’t the councils cross check to see if the claimant's name matches that on the Voters' Register!
Especially as Jason Simpson had committed previous offences, surely making him a priority for routine checks?

I'm afraid this is a fail for Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have made wrong assumptions. Housing and Council Tax Benefit works together and yes they will know when someone moves into a property as they use the same system. It is likely that somebody was living in his property, didnt register as an elector and didnt register for council tax. Also, his conviction in 2005 would be classed as 'spent' after 5 or 7 years. I am an investigator, but would point out that not for this council.