15 Jun 2015

Conditional discharges for benefit thieves

Two people who failed to declare they were living with their partners, leading to a total of £14,177.35 of housing benefit being claimed to which they were not entitled, has led to them being convicted under benefit and council tax support legislation.

Both claimants pleaded guilty at Folkestone Magistrates Court on June 3 2015, and each was sentenced to 12 months conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs to Ashford Borough Council of £651.

Emily Piggott, 26 years old, failed to declare that her partner David Ward was living with her. The overpayment occurred between January 2013 and July 2014 and totalled £9,681.47. The case was discovered by housing benefit officers, when checks were made and appeared to link the couple together.

In a second case heard on the same day, the court heard that Keith Harris, 49 years old, had also failed to declare that he lived with his wife, Helen Harris. A fraudulent housing benefit overpayment that occurred between January 2013 and April 2014 was calculated at £4,495.88. Charges were also brought for council tax benefit and council tax support when the new system was introduced.

Both investigations also led to council tax single person occupancy discounts being removed.

Neil Shorter, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for finance, budget and resource management, said:
It is right that we take benefit fraud seriously. Cases such as this, where we are able to achieve a successful conviction hopefully act as a deterrent to others. We will prosecute and the courts take the severity of benefit fraud into account when sentencing. Our message is clear – people fraudulently claiming benefit are stealing money from public services and we will not let them get away with it.
The cases highlight Ashford’s record of detecting fraud and achieving convictions where it is in the public interest to do so. In 2014-15, the fraud team has found overpayments amounting to around £280,000 in relation to housing benefit and council tax discounts.

With an average of 30 per cent of referrals coming from members of the public, the council is highlighting these latest convictions to act as a deterrent to others and remind people of the part they play in helping to detect money fraudulently taken from the public purse.


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