4 Mar 2017

Judge: benefit thief was sorry that she'd been caught

A woman from Broadstairs has been jailed for 18 months after being found guilty of fraudulently claiming more than £150,000 in benefits from a London council.

Footage captured by The Royal Borough of Greenwich’s anti-fraud team captured Lisa White, who claimed to need an oxygen tank and walking stick, dancing and singing to a Mariah Carey song.

Mrs White, who ran the Bandstand Kiosk in Broadstairs, was also filmed lifting heavy loads from a cash and carry into a car.

During the fraud the 54-year-old and her husband Andrew White enjoyed five nights on the QE2 cruise liner; a 21-day Mediterranean cruise on the Queen Victoria; a £5,500 26-night Caribbean cruise on the Oceana and, after their arrest, a 28-night £9,000 New York and Caribbean cruise on the Queen Mary 2.

Mrs White had claimed disability, based on obesity, in 1995. But after a gastric band operation in 2005 her weight plunged from 27 stones to 13 stones. However, she kept claiming Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Employment Support Allowance.

Mrs White had received Direct Payments of £315 per week, from the Royal Borough of Greenwich since February 2000 and in 2014, Mrs White claimed that her carer was Mr White, whose address was given as Broadstairs.

The Whites bought a mansion block flat in Broadstairs in 2007 and in 2009 Lisa was the highest bidder to take over the seafront Bandstand Kiosk. The pair also ran The White House cafe in Oscar Road, where Mrs White was filmed dancing and singing.

However Mrs White claimed to be living in a council property in Eltham with her mother but the team did not believe that a personal carer would travel from Broadstairs to Eltham every day.

Council administrators also spotted anomalies in bank statements provided by Mrs White relating to her claims.

The team’s concerns were raised with the council’s anti-fraud team, who began to conduct further inquiries.

Mrs White claimed to have a number of health issues in order to claim a range of benefits, saying that she required care and assistance on a daily basis; that she could not dress herself without assistance; was unable to lift kitchen items such as pots and pans; required the assistance of oxygen tanks to regulate her breathing and had to use a walking stick indoors and a wheelchair outdoors in order to assist her mobility.

Surveillance footage revealed Mr and Mrs White coming to the council’s Woolwich Centre to drop off papers relating to a rehousing application that she had made, where she appeared to have great difficulty walking. Two days later she was filmed in Broadstairs where she walked unaided with no use of a walking stick, which she claimed to need to walk, and no sign of the oxygen tank that she also claimed to need.

She was also filmed running her business at the Bandstand Kiosk, including serving customers with plates of food, lifting and carrying heavy supplies from a cash and carry, carrying purchases on a shopping trip to a large shopping centre, and dancing.

She was in receipt of employment and support allowance, incapacity benefit and higher rate disability living allowance. The higher rate disability living allowance also allowed her to have access to the Motability scheme and obtain a Motability vehicle. She also had a Blue Badge that entitled her to free parking.

Fraud investigators carried out detailed checks on Mrs White, and determined that she was in fact paying her carers payments to her husband – according to records it showed that she was living in council housing with her mother in Eltham in the Royal Borough, stating that it was her only home and did not own a property anywhere else, however records showed that her name was linked to two properties in Broadstairs as well as a café and the bandstand kiosk.

Mr and Mrs White appeared at Inner London Crown Court in December, when Mrs White pleaded guilty to 13 charges of fraud and Mr White pleaded guilty to two charges; one charge of aiding and abetting under the Fraud Act 2006 and one charge under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The total amount of money fraudulently claimed was £151,933.26.

Mrs White has been sent to prison for 18 months and Mr White received a nine-month suspended sentence.

As he jailed her, Judge Tudor Owen commented on the video saying: “She’s dancing around. I can see why she’s happy. If I was getting money for nothing, I’d be happy.”

He told Mrs White: “I am told by you that you are remorseful and I have no doubt you are sorry you were caught. I’m not convinced your remorse is genuine. Even after you were arrested you then went on a cruise, you both took a 28 night cruise on the Queen Mary 2. You had a liking for the Caribbean. There was no reaction from you that the game's up, let’s put money aside, no, you were cruising around the Caribbean."

Councillor Maureen O’Mara, cabinet member for customer services at Royal Greenwich said: “Mrs White presented herself as a severely disabled woman, needing daily care with everyday tasks, and was making full use of all the benefits available to her. She was not genuinely in need. Indeed, she carried out a deliberate and sustained fraud, stealing a staggering amount of money – money meant for people who are genuinely in need. She fully deserves this sentence, and the criminal record that will now follow her.”

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