31 Mar 2016

"Civil penalties" to deter benefit fraud?

Residents in Weymouth and Portland look set to be fined if they fail to provide accurate and complete information when claiming benefits or council tax.

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council is preparing to introduce new ‘civil penalties’ as part of a move nationally to tackle fraud and error in the benefits system.

The government has given councils powers under the Welfare Reform Act to deter claimants from committing benefit fraud and as an inventive for people to promptly notify of a change in circumstances.

It will enable councils to deal with failures quickly and simply, and to address losses in subsidy resulting from errors made by residents in their claims.

The council's Management Committee is being recommended at a meeting next Tuesday to launch an awareness campaign to remind people of their responsibilities and to introduce the penalties. The penalty for failing to supply information, or negligently supplying incorrect information, which results in a housing benefit overpayment would be £50. For council tax payers who fail to do it would be £70. A further penalty of £280 could be imposed if the person continues to supply incorrect information or fails to respond to requests for further information.

A report to the committee says: “It is proposed that, with effect from April 2016, the council introduces a civil penalty scheme which penalises claimants and council taxpayers who fail to supply information (or negligently supplies incorrect information).

“In cases where the civil penalty relates to housing benefit, the claimant will be invoiced accordingly through the debtors system. In cases where the penalty relates to council tax support or council tax, it will be added to the council tax bill and recovered in the same way as any council tax liability.

“There may be situations where customers have mitigating reasons. In view of this, officers will have regard to such factors when determining whether a penalty should be imposed. The scheme will include an appeals process for claimants and council taxpayers who are aggrieved by the imposition of a penalty.”

Finance & assets spokesman Cllr Jeff Cant said the council had to be 'very cautious' when applying this penalty. But he said he was convinced it would target people deliberately trying to cheat the system rather than people who make mistakes.


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