13 Jun 2014

Benefit thief lied about his disability

A welfare cheat who took £20,000 in state handouts by claiming he could barely walk was caught working as a delivery driver - and climbing over walls. (h/t Dave)

Steven Higgins, 50, told the Department for Work and Pensions he was in constant pain, needed a walking stick and even required help cooking meals at home.

But a fraud investigator saw him using steps and carrying out his business as a courier without any discomfort and was even seen to climb over walls.

Inquiries revealed Higgins of Crawshawbooth, near Rossendale in Lancashire, had claimed Disability Living Allowance (DLA) over five years and netted £19,492.

He is no longer in receipt of the benefit - yet is appealing the DWP’s decision to remove it.

At Burnley magistrates' court, Higgins admitted two counts of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit, between May 9, 2008 and September 10, 2013.

He was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison, suspended for a year, and was ordered to pay £85 costs and an £80 victim surcharge.

Prosecutor Andrew Robinson said Higgins made his claim for DLA, saying he could walk less than 20 metres in seven to 10 minutes and that would permanently be the case.

He told the DWP he sometimes needed a walking stick, was in constant pain, would not feel comfortable out on his own and needed help at home. Higgins also claimed he could not prepare meals.

But Mr Robinson said evidence was available to show his situation changed and was no longer as severe as his original claim.

He was self-employed as a courier driver for a company and had not notified the department of this or any improvement in his condition.

The prosecutor said a fraud investigator saw the defendant working and he was observed climbing over walls, using steps and 'going about his business in a normal manner with no discomfort.'

Mr Robinson added it was not a fraud from the outset. The defendant, who had no previous convictions, had not yet repaid any of the money.

In mitigation Jeremy Frain, defending, said the criminality was not the fact Higgins was working. But there was an 'indiscretion' if a person put on the original claim form they could only walk five feet without having to stop for a breather and were discovered to have walked six or seven feet without stopping.

The defendant had attended a rheumatology clinic and Mr Frain read out part of a medical letter, which stated his client had 'progressive destructive disease' and marked damage to his hands and feet which would undoubtedly limit his ability to perform daily functions. Mr Frain said Higgins had been suffering anxiety and had to have treatment as a result of the protracted court proceedings.

The solicitor added: 'I am quite sure he’s extremely remorseful. He’s terrified at the prospect of an immediate custodial sentence. It’s his first conviction and he loses his good name because of this. I don’t think for one minute it will be repeated. At the moment he’s not in receipt of DLA and it will be the subject of an appeal. He regards himself as trying to help himself by working to keep him going, rather than sitting sedentary at home and his condition getting worse rather than better. This is a serious matter but I would ask you to give him a chance to retain his liberty. The family are generally very much in debt.'

After the case, Jane Baker, DWP Fraud Manager in the North West, said: 'It is unfair that some people get support when they do not have a disability, while many people depend on the benefits system to provide a safety net. We are determined to find those who we suspect are cheating the system by following up on tip-offs, undertaking surveillance and working with local councils. If you suspect someone of benefit fraud, please call the Benefit Fraud Hotline on 0800 854 440 so we can continue to tackle the problem in your area.'

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