17 Dec 2014

Wolverhampton reports benefit fraud totals

Convicted benefits cheats illegally claimed more than £300,000 in Wolverhampton in the past year. (h/t Dave)

Wolverhampton City Council made a total of 77 benefit fraud sanctions between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014, resulting in a total of 53 prosecutions.

The most common sentence was unpaid work in the community, totalling 1,350 hours. There were also seven curfew orders, which restrict people to their home during the evening and night time. One person was sentenced to prison for 18 months and a further 11 people with prison sentences of three weeks to 12 months suspended for between 12 and 24 months.

Councillor Andrew Johnson, the authority's finance boss, said: "Appropriate action is taken to recover these overpayments wherever possible. A significant proportion of the 77 sanctions last year resulted in a prosecution. This was mainly due to the high value of the overpayments. Large overpayments also usually reflect longer periods of fraud, which can demonstrate a determined failure to apply for benefit truthfully, or to report changes in circumstances promptly."

There are three sanction types considered for benefit fraud offences in addition to the action taken to recover any overpaid benefit.

Cautions by the council are offered to people as an alternative to prosecution. If a caution is refused, prosecution is then considered. This sanction is typically given for smaller offences committed by first-time offenders who have cooperated in the investigation.

Administrative penalties are also offered. Cheats are asked to pay a fine of 30% or 50% of the overpayment on top of the recovery and they have 14 or 28 days to consider the offer before prosecution is sought.

Note - prosecutions can often produce lower penalties than this.

A criminal prosecution is the strongest sanction. This sanction typically applies to larger offences or a very small number committed by repeat offenders. This deterrent includes a criminal record for those found guilty.

On a national level, it is estimated that £2 billion is lost every year through benefit fraud. This equates to £70 a year for every taxpayer.

Joint investigations are carried out with the DWP and neighbouring councils and can often involve the police, immigration service, customs and excise and the Inland Revenue.

There are also Data Matching Exercises, which are conducted by the Housing Benefit Matching Service (HBMS) and the Audit Commission’s National Fraud Initiative (NFI), who cross-reference information held by public authorities and a number of private companies. Any conflicting data is then referred to the relevant authority to investigate.


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