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7 Sep 2018

£647m seized in housing benefit fraud crackdown

A massive crackdown on fraud and blunders in the Housing Benefit system has netted record savings for taxpayers, new figures revealed tonight as it emerged one claimant stole the identity of a dead man to receive payments.

A total of £175m was recovered by the DWP in the first three months of this year.

It was the biggest haul collected by the Whitehall department in a three month period.

Overall, more than £647million was recovered after investigations into fraudulent and incorrect Housing Benefit claims during the 2017/18 financial year.

Officials said that failure to declare correct earnings and employment details was the biggest cause of loss in the Housing Benefit system.

Tory Work and Pensions Esther McVey said: “We are determined to catch those we suspect of fraudulently claiming benefits, as they divert funds away from people in need. We are working closely with local authorities to address Housing Benefit fraud and error, and developing new measures that can be used to help prevent it.”

Last year, her department was given an £82million fund from the Treasury for tackling Housing Benefit fraud and error.

The fund helped was used to set up a Housing Benefit taskforce, provide new computer systems for identifying fraud and improve co-operation between local authorities to root out benefit cheats.

Officials released details of recent cases uncovered in the crackdown. They included:

Brian Matthews, 51, from Cornwall, who made false claims for Housing Benefit and a range of disability support handouts under numerous identities. For one set of claims, he stole the identity of a dead man. He manipulated medical evidence to claim that he had “irreversible spinal damage”.

Following a DWP investigation, he admitted that his condition was no more serious than lower back pain. The case resulted in a loss to the taxpayer of more than £245,000. Matthews was given a 42 and a half month sentence by Truro Crown Court, and ordered to repay the defrauded amount.

Adele Ledward, 36, of Stockport falsely claimed more than £58,000 in Housing Benefit by posing as a struggling, single parent living alone. An investigation found she had been living with a partner who was a successful businessman. While claiming benefits Ledward went on several holidays with her partner. She pleaded guilty to fraud and was ordered to repay the cash and was given a 12-month suspended jail sentence.

Sahin Lim, 60, of Glasgow fraudulent claimed a series of means-tested hand-out including more £34,000 in Housing Benefit. An investigation revealed Lim had travelled extensively while claiming the cash, taking more than 1,000 flights to visit over 117 countries. He had more than £500,000 deposited in various undisclosed bank accounts. Lim was found guilty of benefit fraud and sentenced to 22 months in prison and ordered to repay the overpaid funds.

John O’Connell, chief executive at the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group, said: "Taxpayers will be very encouraged to see that the DWP is cracking down on benefit fraud.

"Not only is the money needed elsewhere, but the injustice of people cheating a system designed to help the most vulnerable is very keenly felt.

"Alongside these technical steps, we hope that people will act responsibly and not take money that doesn’t belong to them and is needed to help those who deserve support."

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