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24 Jul 2014

Blackpool benefit fraud "up 50%"

More than £1.8m was “stolen” from Blackpool taxpayers last year through fraudulent benefit claims, new figures reveal.

The total represents overpayments identified by Blackpool Council’s Benefit Fraud Team working alongside investigators from the Department of Work and Pensions in some cases, and is up from £1.2m the previous year.

During the last financial year (2013/14), the team uncovered housing benefit and council tax fraud amounting to just more than £1.2m, while joint inquiries with the DWP accounted for £600,000 of other benefits which recipients were not entitled to.

A report to councillors said the figures were “a strong indication that benefit fraud continues to be a problem in Blackpool.”

Formal action was taken in 294 cases on different levels, including 80 completed prosecutions.

In 2012/13 an estimated £1.2bn was lost in benefit fraud nationwide.

Blackpool Council’s Benefit Fraud Team will join the Department for Work and Pensions as part of the Single Fraud Investigation Service from April next year.

Recent cases in Blackpool include DJ Paul Holt who made false claims over a four-year period while working as an entertainer at the Hacketts York House Hotel, on Queens Promenade, Bispham. He had legitimately claimed a number of benefits from 2001 – after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of being caught up in the Bradford City stadium fire in 1985 which left 56 people dead. However, after returning to work at the hotel in April 2010 he neglected to tell the authorities of the change in his condition and continued to claim income support, disability living allowance, housing and council tax benefits. He was jailed for six months at Preston Crown Court after racking up almost £57,000 in false benefits.

Also in January, a grandfather who said he was so disabled he spent all day in his dressing gown was caught out after it emerged he was working three different jobs. He appeared before magistrates in January for defrauding the public purse of £12,000, and was jailed for 56 days.

In February this year a former soldier who failed to mention he was in receipt of an Army pension when he started to get Jobseekers Allowance, was fined £300 after magistrates heard that as a result he was overpaid £4,183.

Figures for previous years show benefit fraud uncovered by the Blackpool team totalled £1.1m in 2010/11 and £1.5m in 2011/12. Blackpool Council bosses refused to 
discuss the issue further.

In April this year the Government introduced new rules aimed at deterring benefit fraud. These include that up to 40 per cent can be deducted from benefits payments so money is returned more quickly, an increase in financial penalties from £2,000 to £5,000, and using bailiffs to confiscate high value possession from convicted benefits cheats.

This is the tip of the iceberg.

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