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3 Jan 2020

Bristol reports major successes in countering housing frauds

Fraud investigators at Bristol City Council have saved taxpayers more than £2million in the last six months, a report reveals.

The dedicated team’s work resulted in 19 council properties being recovered between April and October.

In one case that took 10 years ago to complete, a housing benefit cheat falsely claimed almost £20,000 after failing to declare owning a property.

Despite being convicted in 2012 and receiving a suspended jail sentence the following year, the culprit refused to abide by a confiscation order obtained by the council in court, which ordered the person to pay back the money plus £43,000 of local authority costs.

They served four months in prison as a result, and in 2019 the case finally came to a conclusion when a crown court judge appointed an enforcement receiver to force the sale of the property, with the council’s debt and costs to come from the proceeds.

The half-year counter-fraud report said the 19 council homes recovered amounted to nearly £1.8million, by far the largest portion of the savings to taxpayers.

A further £12,681 is recoverable to the council.

One council employee was sacked following a benefit fraud investigation with the DWP.

The 10-strong anti-corruption team, which investigates scams involving social housing tenancies, council tax reduction, direct payments and those carried out by council staff, also had successes in seven other cases from its tenancy fraud work, such as housing applications being cancelled or benefits savings.

Other examples, according to the report, included “a person removed from the housing register due to a fraudulent application, a person occupying a three-bedroom property but moved to a smaller property due to a fraudulent application and the removal of single person’s discount from a council tax account”.

It said a “key amnesty” was held in April and May with two housing providers where tenants committing fraud were offered the chance to voluntarily surrender their tenancy without recriminations.

As a result, two people handed back their properties, an anonymous tip-off led to a housing application being cancelled because a fraudster had failed to tell the council they had moved out of Bristol, and 23 cases are still under investigation.

Seven people who surrendered their keys during the amnesty period for “no apparent reason” were previously or currently subject to tenancy fraud investigation.

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Well done, Bristol!

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