Showing posts with label council tax single person fraud. Show all posts
Showing posts with label council tax single person fraud. Show all posts

10 Sep 2019

Council tax fraud and illegal sub-letting

Falsely claiming the Government's single person discount is the third most prevalent type of fraud in the UK, figures show.

This is where a person claims to live in a single-person household in order to receive a Council Tax discount from their local authority.

In the 2017/18 financial year, £15.8million was lost to this type of fraud - money that could have been used to support other services and individuals within the community.

The research, carried out by fraud prevention service Cifas, also showed that adults in London were twice as likely to consider falsely claiming a Single Person Discount on Council Tax as 'reasonable', as opposed to respondents in the East Midlands, West Midlands or South East.

These figures are being used as part of the Cifas 'Faces of Fraud' campaign, which aims to challenge those seemingly harmless behaviours that are, in fact, illegal. It said the awareness campaign - which has been trialled in Harrow Council, London - has so far saved the local authority £3.6million in lost revenue.

Fern Silverio, head of housing benefits for Harrow Council, said: "Like other Councils, Harrow is under pressure to maximise its income, particularly in the face of recent funding cuts. Our partnership has helped us keep fraudsters on their toes, at the same as future-proofing our own validation techniques."

In addition to Single Person Discount, unlawful subletting also remains a key housing fraud issue for local authorities.

The seemingly ‘victimless’ crime is estimated to have cost local authorities over £216million in the 2017/18 financial year- including fraud on right to buy.

Unlawful subletting in councils occurs when individuals let out their council housing without the permission of the council, meaning that in times of high demand for social housing, those in need may be denied the housing they require due to a seeming lack of available housing.

However, it is a criminal offence in the UK and can lead to criminal prosecution and the loss of the individual’s home.

Kevin Campbell, deputy head of Internal Audit and Anti Fraud from Waltham Forest Local Authority, said: "Council housing is in huge demand, and when a tenant’s circumstances change - for example, where they may have married and moved in with a partner - a council property is vulnerable to subletting.

"Council tenants do not want to relinquish their tenancies, as they are aware they may never obtain a council property again. Due to extremely high private rental charges in the area, by subletting a council property at a similar market rate to privately-owned properties, the council tenant will make a huge profit.

"Subletting has a huge impact on the Borough and local community, as the Council is unable to offer these properties to people in genuine need."

Mike Haley, at Cifas, added: "Unlawful subletting and fraudulent housing claims put huge financial pressure on local authorities and, more importantly, it means that families are missing out on the opportunity of a much-needed home.

"The consequences of this type of fraud are very serious indeed, and could result in a criminal conviction and a prison sentence. I would urge anyone thinking of falsely claiming housing benefit to consider the real impact this can have on their future as well as that of the community at large."


30 Jul 2018

Frauds & errors found by Darwen Council

Steps to investigate fraud concerning Blackburn with Darwen Council last year have been revealed. (h/t FraudManager)

A total of 467 cases of fraud or errors were found over 2017/18 resulting in savings of £229,413 in cases relating to benefits, council tax discount, blue badges and housing.

The majority of cash saved has been from single person discount for council tax, where £87,348 has been saved through the correction of 323 instances of fraud or error.

A further £60,904 has been identified from 28 cases of people claiming benefits including housing or council tax support.

And 107 instances of fraud or error relating to blue badge or residents' parking permits have been found and corrected, totalling £57,423.


19 Jul 2018

Couple wrongly claimed council tax benefits for 22 years

A Sale couple have been convicted of fraud after falsely claiming council tax benefits for over 20 years.

Anna Carvell, 57, and her partner Russell Newall, 57, were convicted of falsely obtaining a Council Tax discount.

Carvell failed to report to the Council that Mr Newall was living in the property with her and benefited from a 25 per cent reduction to her Council Tax.

Over a span of 22 years, from April 1, 1996 to March 31, 2018, the pair received £6,118.73 in council tax benefits by falsely claiming single person discounts.

Carvell was ordered to carry out 60 hours unpaid work and Mr Newall was sentenced to a 12 month community order of 100 hours of unpaid work.

They were also ordered to pay costs of £200 as well as a victim surcharge of £85. In both cases, the court took into account the pair's early guilty pleas.

Executive Member for Finance, Mike Cordingley, said:
Falsely claiming council tax discount is illegal and costs the council money that could be spent elsewhere, for example supporting our frontline services. Trafford is currently undertaking a council tax discount review with many households being contacted to confirm their eligibility. It’s vital that people report any changes in their circumstances to us as soon as they occur.
Trafford Council said it has already recovered in full the additional council tax owed by the couple.

The offence was detected by Council Counter Fraud Officers following a data matching exercise. It highlighted the fact that the couple had been living together for some time whilst continuing to claim the discount on the basis that Miss Carvell was the only adult living in the property.

During the period of the offences they had moved house but continued to claim the discount. Newall had falsely stated he was living elsewhere when the Council questioned who was resident at their current address, when they moved there in 2003.


Data matching again

29 Sep 2017

East Devon DC checks council tax discounts

Checks to make sure East Devon householders who currently claim a 25 per cent council tax discount for living alone are still entitled to it are being carried out this month.

As part of East Devon District Council’s measures to prevent fraud and protect the public purse, checks are beginning this month to ensure that those claiming the discount are entitled to it.

Nationally, council tax discounts are the second highest area of fraud and error, behind welfare benefits. It is estimated that nationally £19.6 million is lost each year in incorrectly applied discounts.

£7.7 million is awarded annually to residents in East Devon receiving a single person council tax discount. This equates to an average reduction of £375 per year. Based on research, up to 5% of these discounts may be incorrectly claimed and in East Devon this could equate to up to £385,000 each year. When the review was last carried out, discounts of more than £182,000 were identified as being incorrectly claimed.

The council will be carrying out checks using sophisticated data-matching technology to make sure that around 21,000 households who currently receive a discount in the district are still eligible.

The council will be working with Datatank, a firm of data solutions specialists, to carry out the review by cross-referencing with other sources of information about households such as the electoral-roll registers and financial sector information.

Cllr Ian Thomas, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for finance, said: "I would like to stress that anyone genuinely claiming a reduction should not be concerned. However, if you are found to be deliberately misleading the council, you could face a penalty of £70, as well as having to repay the discount. Council taxpayers who claim the discount improperly place an unnecessary burden on the very real needs of some residents. We must treat such misinformation very seriously. Council taxpayers have a legal duty to advise the council of any changes to their single occupancy circumstances. This review will help us make sure our approach to the single person discount is robust, fair and cost effective."

The review will begin this month and be completed by December. As part of the process, Datatank will be contacting a sample of households by letter and/or telephone on behalf of the council.

The review is being jointly funded by the council, Devon County Council, Devon & Cornwall Police and Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue Authority who each receive a portion of the council tax.


18 Sep 2017

Businessman admits benefit fraud

A businessman and landlord is now a convicted benefit fraudster after he concealed some of his finances and sub-let his property.

Rebecca Ware, prosecuting, said Peter Cullen, 50, claimed council tax relief and a single person council tax discount from September 2013 on the grounds he lived alone and had less than £500 in capital.

But he didn't include details about one of his bank accounts which contained more money that he was allowed to have for the full claim.

He also failed to tell Selby District Council when he started getting income by sub-letting the house where he paid council tax, and when he started running a business with over £120,000 going through his accounts in 18 months between February 2014 and July 2015.

Council officers became suspicious in August 2016 when four adults went on the electoral roll for the property where he was claiming he lived alone, and started investigating.

Cullen told York magistrates that when he made the initial claim, he had been made redundant and his partner had left him. He had since put himself back on his feet.

His caravan park business had been open for business since August and at the time of the court case, he had six lodgers paying £100 a week, plus a 14-stand caravan park where visitors paid £100 a month.

“It was a stupid decision by me,” he said of the benefit fraud. “I got myself into a situation I didn’t know how to get out of and buried my head in the sand”.

Cullen, now of Broad Lane, Cawood, pleaded guilty to four offences of benefit fraud committed between September 2013 and June 27, 2015.

He was ordered to do 200 hours’ unpaid work and pay £1,006 costs to Selby District Council, who prosecuted the case, plus an £85 victim surcharge.

Miss Ware said as a result of his crimes, Cullen received £6,443 in council tax relief and a single person reduction he was not entitled to, and that he has repaid all the money.

13 Sep 2017

Sandwell counter-fraud team's successes

Sandwell Council’s highly successful counter fraud team has been praised for making huge savings after a series of investigations into benefits, house sales and financial dealings.

The team – which has been shortlisted in the Government’s Counter Fraud Awards scheme, Fraud Team of the Year category – works with a wide range of council departments and partner organisations to seek out possible frauds and other finance-based problems in the borough.

A special counter fraud report highlights its many successes – achieving almost £10 million in actual and notional savings after a range of inquiries in the last 12 months.

Councillor Steve Trow, cabinet member for core council services, said: “This is an excellent report which highlights the many successes of the unit and emphasises that the council is committed to operating a zero tolerance on fraud, corruption and bribery. The work by the counter fraud unit shows that the team thoroughly investigates in a wide variety of areas involving suspected or reported fraudulent activities and has come up with excellent results and huge savings. All matters will be fully investigated and appropriate action will be taken to recover money stolen from the council and deter future instances, whether it be by penalties or, if necessary and in the public interest, by prosecution.”

The team helped the council to save more than £500,000 after investigating incorrect and potentially fraudulent claims for the 25 per cent Single Person Discount on council tax. On top of that, there were 73 cases where people were issued with a penalty charge of £70, leading to £5,110 being collected by the council. Penalties have been introduced by the council to deter incorrect or fraudulent claims, and to encourage people to promptly report changes in circumstances.

Work by the team also led to big savings in housing benefits and council tax reduction, with £78,000 in overpayments being identified.

Their work in social housing fraud led to huge notional savings for the council. The Cabinet Office calculates the cost of social housing tenancy fraud as a notional £93,000 per property. In Sandwell, 73 properties were recovered, which, using the Cabinet Office’s calculation, amounts to a notional £6,789,000 saving.

The team also stopped 67 fraudulent applications, before keys were handed over, achieving an estimated £36,000 notional saving per application, or £2,412,000 in total. This all amounts to a total notional saving of £9.2 million in relation to social housing tenancy fraud.

Investigations continue into the Right to Buy frauds where five applications, worth a total value of £206,000 in discount, were removed as a direct result of the team’s inquiries.


20 Jun 2017

Council tax fraudster caught

On Tuesday 13 June Laura Lincoln pleaded guilty at Oxford Magistrates Court to one count of ‘Failing to Disclose a Change in Circumstances’ contrary to Schedule 8 of the Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Detection of Fraud and Enforcement) Regulations 2013. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

Ms Lincoln had failed to declare that her partner was living with her for a period of two and a half years. She received a criminal conviction and was ordered to pay a fine of £200 and costs for the prosecution. She will also have to repay the overpayment.

This led to a Council Tax reduction being wrongly paid to Ms Lincoln of over £2,400. Investigators found that Ms Lincoln and her partner had been living as a family with their three children for this time despite Ms Lincoln making several declarations to the contrary.

Councillor Ed Turner, Board Member for Finance and Asset Management said: “This conviction reiterates Oxford City Council’s zero tolerance approach to fraud. The Council employs a highly-skilled investigation team who work tirelessly to root out fraudulent behaviour and we will prosecute offenders. It is very import residents claim money to which they are entitled, but residents must be honest about their circumstances, or the consequences can be very serious indeed.”


8 Jun 2016

Lincolnshire councils reclaim over £600k council tax discounts

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money have been recovered by Lincolnshire councils from people who have continued to get single person discount on their council tax when not entitled to it. (h/t Dave)

A review was carried out of more than 100,000 households to see if people claiming the 25% single person discount were genuinely living on their own.

A total of 2,229 discounts were taken away and individuals have had to pay back any discount that they were not entitled to.

Enforcement action has been taken against 543 people as they have either failed to respond or have provided misleading information. In all, £611,000 was recovered.

Councillor Aaron Spencer, Boston Borough Council's finance portfolio holder, said: "This type of exercise is part of our fraud prevention measures which all Lincolnshire councils take very seriously. We do investigate and take appropriate action against people claiming council tax discount and exemptions that they are not entitled to. Every pound lost this way increases national and local taxation levels and also threatens essential services.

"£611,000 is a significant amount of money that is successfully being reclaimed - we will not tolerate those who potentially seek to defraud local taxpayers. In Boston borough £61,000 has been reclaimed, 255 claimants have been removed and 98 penalties totalling £7,000 have been issued.

"We are obliged to amend any records we find to be incorrect back to the date of the change. This means householders do not benefit from withholding information from us and it makes the system fairer for everyone. If you don't tell us it could mean some households will find they have a considerable amount of council tax arrears to pay."