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Showing posts with label housing benefit fraud. Show all posts
Showing posts with label housing benefit fraud. Show all posts

1 Nov 2019

Rochdale still owed £5m+ in overpaid housing benefits

Rochdale Council is still owed £5.1m in housing benefits wrongly paid to residents.

The figure represents the total amount of money outstanding – including from previous years – yet to be recouped by the authority.

Overpayments made to people in receipt of the benefit over the last financial year came to £1.9m, while some £330,000 was written off over the same period.

The council says while the overall amount owing is the lowest in Greater Manchester, it will use all the tools at its disposal to recover the money.

Neil Thornton, the council’s director of resources, said: “We take all reasonable efforts to recover any amount due. In certain circumstances this can include deductions directly from future Housing Benefit payments, from DWP benefits or from earnings.”

He added overpayments were only written off by the council ‘after all available recovery options have been exhausted or if the person has absconded and is unable to be found’.

The rules on who is eligible for housing benefit are set by the government and the payments are administered by local authorities.

Overpayments can happen for a variety of reasons, from residents making mistakes or failing to notify a change in circumstances to fraudulent activity.

Nearly £1.8 million in overpaid housing benefits was recovered by the council during the 2018/19 financial year.

Rochdale council is currently facing a budget gap of more than £7m, making it vital to keep the amount of money it loses to fraud and error to an absolute minimum. Mr Thornton said the council has plans in place to ensure this is the case.

He said: “We have a range of preventative measures – these include verifying information from residents with supporting evidence and using a range of data matching sources from DWP, HMRC, landlords and employers,” he said.

“Claims and changes are not processed until appropriate evidence is provided to support the information provided. Changes in circumstances are processed quickly, particularly if these will result in less Housing Benefit being due. In some cases, payment is suspended whilst necessary information is obtained.”

Greater Manchester’s local authorities were owed nearly £100m at the end of 2018/19 according to the latest government figures.

Manchester had the highest amount outstanding – some £27.4m – followed by Wigan and Salford (both £12.8m).

Rochdale (£5.1m), Bury (£5.5m) and Stockport (£5.8m) were owed the least.

Source

5 Apr 2019

Big Brother star's sister avoids jail for £21k benefit fraud

I didn't know Big Brother had 'stars' ... seems I'm just out of touch.

THE sister of a reality TV star was spared jail after a court heard she funded her celebrity lifestyle with £21,000 in illegal benefits.

Lauryn Goodman, sister of Celebrity Big Brother star Chloe, wept in the dock as details of her benefit fraud were read out.

The 28-year-old spent thousands on trips to Las Vegas and skiing in France with her sister. The reality TV star was said to have been mortified when she found out.

Hove Trial Centre heard she was now trying to return to paid work with HSBC bank. (!)

Goodman, from Portslade, was handed a seven-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. She will also have to do 200 hours’ unpaid work and pay £670 costs after the court heard she had already paid back all the money she claimed in benefits.

Prosecuting, Pierce Power said the seven offences had been committed between December 2013 and August 2016. Goodman claimed disability benefit and housing benefit totalling £21,007. She admitted the charges at an earlier hearing.

Mr Power said: “Ms Goodman failed to declare income of £370 a month from an insurance policy. She also had a joint mortgage with her mother on a house in Portslade.” The court heard she did not think the insurance money was income.

And she claimed she did not have access to several bank accounts which belonged to her grandmother and father.

She also had more than £16,000 in the bank.

The housing benefit was claimed on a flat in Brighton where she was the tenant but never paid any rent.

Mr Power said she used £3,500 to buy airline tickets to Las Vegas on a trip with sister Chloe. Money was also use to hire ski equipment on another holiday with her sister at Les Arcs in France.

Sally Mertens for Goodman said her client was in an ongoing battle with depression.

She said: “There is an inability to face the music as a result of telling lies and behaving dishonestly. She is very, very sorry for her conduct. Her sister, Chloe Goodman, who sits in the public gallery, was mortified to consider her conduct has exacerbated the situation. Ms Goodman has lost her good character. She is well educated and has had many opportunities.”

His Honour Judge David Rennie told Goodman the offending went on for some time but was essentially out of character.

“This is not who you are,” he said. “You have made some catastrophically bad decisions. But that is never an excuse for what is essentially stealing public money.”

Goodman made no comment as she walked free from court.

Source with pictures

20 Mar 2019

£1m benefit fraud gang finally sentenced

Seven benefit assessors have now been sentenced to prison for a total of 17 years for their roles in housing benefit fraud which saw more than £1m stolen from three councils in London.

The assessors worked in the local authorities of Lambeth, Kingston, and Barking and Dagenham, creating false housing benefit claims over a period of six years and sending the funds to accounts they controlled.

Lambeth employee Menelik Cowan, one of the driving forces of the fraud, and six others, denied fraud but were convicted by a jury after a three-month trial at Southwark Crown Court.

Cowan was sentenced to six-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. He had diverted £293,147 from his employers over six years. Others received between three-and-a-half years' imprisonment and 18 months.

The gang would identify properties, collect details for false claims and create appointments for the fraudsters at the council.

They also approved false claims and used their systems to ensure council letters, which might have revealed their fraud, were not sent to the properties.

Money was sent into accounts controlled by money launderers who left the country before they could be charged.

The Crown Prosecution Service worked closely with investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions Serious and Organised Investigation Team to bring the prosecution.

Ben Reid, of the CPS, said: “These council-employed assessors were trusted to look after badly needed public money meant to help people find somewhere to live. Instead they corrupted the systems and sent over one million pounds to money launderers in the criminal underground.

“During their trial they said they had no idea the claims were false and that they were simply processing papers given to them by their managers. However, the CPS prosecution showed the jury messages between them and their co-conspirators planning the whole thing.

“They have now been convicted by the jury and these public funds are safely out of their hands.”

A timetable for proceeds of crime hearings will now be set out where the CPS will seek to recover any outstanding assets.

It's all so slow.

Menelik Cowan pleaded guilty to one offence of fraud by abuse of positon and one offence of possession of false identity documents with intent. He was then convicted of five further offences of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending is £293,147. He was imprisoned for six-and-a-half years.

Hugh Small pleaded guilty to one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement. He was then convicted of one further offence of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending is £112,983. He was imprisoned for three-and-a-half years.

Rahel Asfaha was convicted after trial of eight offences of fraud by abuse of position, worth £181,872. Imprisoned for two-and-a-half years.

Alex Williams was convicted after trial of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £240,345. Imprisoned for three-and-a-half years.

Cassandra Johnson was convicted after trial of three offences of fraud by abuse of position worth £106,834. Imprisoned for 18 months.

Jessica Bartley was convicted after trial of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £71,600. Imprisoned for 18 months, suspended for 18 months, and given 200 hours unpaid work.

Natasha Francis was convicted after trial of one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £2,868. 18-month community order, and 200 hours unpaid work.

Donna Francis was convicted after trial of one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £8,323.43. 12-month community order.

Derrick Williams was convicted after trial of two offences of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £14,168.03. Imprisoned for 15 months, suspended for 18 months.

Source

13 Mar 2019

Housing benefit fraudster's salary was over £36k

A fraudster who cheated the housing benefit system out of £13,000 has been given a suspended sentence.

Doreen Dankyi, from Bushey, received an overpayment of £13,000 between August 2014 and August 2016 - after she failed to tell her council about her change in circumstances.

She was on a salary of nearly £37,000 a year.

Dankyi was also receiving an income support of just over £7,000.

At St Albans Crown Court on March 4, Dankyi pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to promptly tell Hertsmere Borough Council of a change of circumstances which would affect her housing benefit entitlement, as well as tell the department for work and pensions of changes that would affect her right to receive income support.

The 46-year-old pleaded not guilty to both charges but was found guilty by the jury.

She was given a 26-week custodial sentence, suspended for 18 months.

She has also been given a curfew meaning she has to be at home between 9pm and 6am each night for the next three months.

Councillor John Graham, responsible for finance and property at the council, said: "This case sends out a clear message that discrepancies over benefits claims will be picked up by investigators and any suspected offenders will be prosecuted.

“Housing benefits and income support provide help to those in the most need. Claimants are responsible for making sure that they promptly notify the relevant authorities when their circumstances change."

Source

20 Feb 2019

Benefit fraudster loses his taxi licence

A Cambridge taxi driver has been barred from the trade after claiming more than £16,000 in benefits he was not entitled to.

Mohammed Gulam Mostafa, 52, first appeared before the council’s licensing sub-committee after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) informed the authority that he had been convicted of benefit fraud.

The DWP investigation found that Mr Mostafa had claimed a total of £16,294 in housing and council tax benefit that he wasn’t entitled to during the course of several years.

As a licensed private hire driver, Mr Mostafa was required to report any convictions to the council in writing within seven days. This was not done. After the DWP made the council aware, Mr Mostafa was contacted and attended an interview at the authority’s offices to discuss the allegation and the failure to report it as per his licence conditions.

He claimed during the interview that he was not aware he needed to report it to the council. He also stated that his probation officer should have told him to report the conviction, and it was therefore not his fault. The interviewing officer advised him that the matter would be referred to the Licensing Sub-Committee for a decision on his suitability to continue to hold a private hire driver licence.

The licensing sub-committee hearing took place on January 19 last year, and the decision was made to revoke his licence in the interest of public safety.

Mr Mostafa then appealed the decision to the Magistrates, who refused the appeal and upheld the original council decision. Mr Mostafa was then ordered to pay the council’s costs of £546.

At this point, Mr Mostafa advised the council of his intention to make a further appeal to the Crown Court. This took place on February 8, at Cambridge Crown Court where Mr Mostafa represented himself. The case was heard by HHJ Jonathan Cooper assisted by two lay magistrates. They upheld the Magistrate’s decision, and thereby also the original decision by the licensing sub-committee.

Mr Mostafa’s private hire driver licence was revoked immediately and he was also ordered to pay further costs of £1,968 for the Crown Court appeal.

The council's lead cabinet member for licensing, Cllr Neil Gough, said:
The safety and security of people who are travelling with taxi drivers that are licensed by SCDC is absolutely paramount. Our officers do a huge amount of work to try and ensure residents can step into any taxi with confidence and having drivers with undeclared convictions jeopardises this.

I am pleased that, in this case, both the Magistrates and the Crown Courts agreed with us and upheld our decision to ban Mr Mostafa from holding a private hire badge.

Being granted a tax license is a privilege and we hold drivers that possess them to extremely high standards – as residents quite rightly expect us to. We only license fit and proper people to be taxi drivers and will not tolerate dishonesty. This is a warning to all licensed drivers, operators and vehicle proprietors to ensure they comply fully with council issued conditions.
Last year, the council adopted a new stringent taxi licensing policy that saw the authority become one of only a few requiring the installation of CCTV in most vehicles.

Source

18 Jan 2019

£1m housing benefit fraud

A gang of housing benefit assessors who used dummy claimants to defraud the taxpayer of £1 million are facing jail.

Menelik Cowan, 37, and six other council workers paid the cash into bank accounts opened with false passports.

Lambeth, Kingston, and Barking and Dagenham Councils were cheated out of more than £1m in the decade-long fraud which ran between 2006 and 2016.

Cowan, his then girlfriend Natasha Francis, 38, his brother Hugh Small, 39, Cassandra Johnson, 38, Jessica Bartley, 35, Rahel Asfaha, 36, and Alexander Williams, 39, were working for the local authorities at the time.

Jurors at Southwark Crown Court convicted the seven of various charges of fraud and money laundering after a trial lasting more than three months.

Gareth Munday, prosecuting, had told jurors how the assessors put through a vast number of false claims using fake identities.

He described the scam as a ‘fraudulent business on a grand scale and against the public purse, in particular against local housing benefits offices.

‘When I say it is a business, that is exactly what this was. This was an organised crime conducted in a businesslike fashion.’

He said two other alleged fraudsters, Bashiru Tahiru and Elaine Agyemang, had absconded before they could face justice.

‘They are not here for trial because they are not in this jurisdiction – they have run away.’

The pair took their cut and diverted cash back to the council workers, and others including Alexander Williams’ uncle Derrick Williams and Donna Francis, the court heard.

‘Donna Francis and Derek Williams…received monies into their bank accounts.

‘There is largely no dispute that the claims in this case, the claims that were processed by the seven housing assessors, that they were false, that they were fraudulent.

‘These defendants were uniquely placed to take advantage of their knowledge of the system and their access to the system in order to breach the trust of the local authorities.

‘They were processing false claims, essentially for their own profit,’ said Mr Munday.

‘Mr Cowan is a link between Elaine Agyemang and Bashiru Tahiru. He was, at the time of these allegations, the partner of Natasha Francis.’

The prosecutor said police discovered text messages between Cowan and Tahiru discussing the council’s claimant processing system.

Cowan, who worked for Lambeth Council, had texted Tahiru: ‘Make them work for sixteen hours per week, earning between 60 and 70 pounds per week.’

Mr Munday said: ‘So he’s providing the amount these claimants have to say they are paid. Why would a legitimate housing officer have to tell them?’

The texts continue: ‘Make them text me when they get to the office and get them to go to reception.’

Normally claimants are given a ticket when they attend the housing benefits office and a number is called out when it is their turn.

In the texts, Cowan instructs Tahiru’s fake claimant to ignore the ticket and to, ‘tell them to stay seated until I text them.’

Cowan would then lead the fake claimant to a booth to carry out the assessment himself.

The prosecutor said: ‘Mr Cowan was subverting to ensure that Agyemang and Tahiru were coming before his eyes so that he could process the false claims and not other people. How is that anything other than fraudulent?’

He explained that texts also showed how Cowan was divulging address and salary information to Tahiru.

‘There can be no reason why Mr Cowan would be finding or providing address details for Mr Tahiru, certainly not to speed up legitimate claims because surely a claimant with a legitimate claim are acquainted with their own address.

‘There can be no reason for Mr Cowan to be providing Mr Tahiru with crib answers for legitimate claims – there is no legitimate reason because legitimate claimants wouldn’t need to be reminded what their employer is paying them.

‘The issue in Mr Cowan’s case is was he aware that these claims were fraudulent? His friendship with Agyemang and Tahiru shows that he was part and parcel with Agyemang and Tahiru.’

The prosecutor said Agyemang and Tahiru were paying Cowan around £500 a week at one point.

When Cowan’s home was searched, police found a number of documents hidden in his kitchen, including a tenancy agreement in a black rucksack, relating to another scam.

The prosecutor said other documents were found under an electric heater in the kitchen and on a computer in Cowan’s home.

‘The evidence is, therefore, that he was keeping all of this fraudulent material together,’ said the prosecutor.

‘It is clear that he was keeping the dishonest material all in one place. The reason that he was doing all of this was that he was aware of the nature of the claims he was processing,’ said Mr Munday.

Sentencing will be at Southwark Crown Court on 18 March.

More, with picture

12 Oct 2018

High-living couple evaded tax and claimed benefits

A Liverpool couple who dodged tax and swindled benefits to fund a luxury lifestyle have been ordered to repay £355,000.

Bernard Knutsen, 69, and his wife Maureen, 63, ran Chaplin's bar on Lodge Lane and a car garage in the city.

Pictures reveal wads of cash found at their home that they used to fund their expensive tastes and jet-settling high-life.

The couple’s tax-dodging scheme also netted them

  • Trips to the UAE and USA in 2010 followed by a dream trip to the Far East taking in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and India in March 2011.
  • In November 2011, they jetted off to South Africa, followed by more trips to the USA in 2013 and then a holiday to Argentina, The Falklands and Antarctica in 2014 – all totalling £21,000
  • A brand new £24,000 kitchen at their Fell Street Home.
The couple were jailed for a total of seven years for tax and benefit fraud following a joint investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Department for Work and Pensions and Liverpool City Council.

They now face losing their family home and pub – as well as expensive jewellery and tens of thousands of pounds in savings.

At a confiscation hearing led by HMRC at Liverpool Crown Court on October 4, Bernard Knutsen was ordered to repay £323,195 within three months or spend another three years behind bars.

The Knutsen's had thousands of pounds stashed away along with luxury watches and jewelry
£76,459 of this will be paid as compensation to the Department for Work and Pensions. Maureen Knutsen must repay £32,929 within three months or face another year in prison.

Debbie Porter, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “The Knutsens lived a jet-set lifestyle paid for by a criminal income from cheating every honest tax payer. The Knutsens lost their liberty because of their greed and now face more time behind bars. HMRC will continue to pursue criminals after conviction to seize their ill-gotten assets.”

They ran Chaplin’s Bar on Lodge Lane and a car repair garage on Hill Street, but failed to pay any VAT, National Insurance or Income Tax while also fraudulently claiming benefits.

A search of their home uncovered a wealth of jewellery, including Rolex watches and Royal Mint gold sovereign coins, as well as bundles of cash totalling almost £40,000 stashed in handbags.

Investigators also found that the couple had a £50,000 endowment policy, and had placed £20,000 into the bank accounts of their grandchildren.

The couple’s daughter Kelly Knutsen, 39, who was sentenced to 21 months suspended for two years for her involvement in the fraud, has been ordered to repay £5,010 within 28 days or face three months in jail.

Kelly Knutsen received unexplained money from both businesses into her bank account and owned a £4,000 Rolex watch.

She also claimed benefit to cover her rent but failed to declare a second property she owned and rented out.

The full £5,010 will be paid to Liverpool City Council as compensation.

Source

11 Oct 2018

Woman in £140k benefit fraud

A woman found guilty of one of Northern Ireland’s largest ever benefit frauds was overpaid more than £140,000, a court heard.

Pauline Donaghy from North Belfast will be sentenced next week after admitting to getting the approximately £144,000 in Housing Benefit and Income Support.

Belfast Crown Court heard that while the 42-year-old mother of three is currently paying back £25 a week, “it would take 100 years to repay the money, not including any interest”.

After listening to submissions from both the Crown and defence, Judge RoseAnn McCormick QC branded the case and sentencing process as “complex and compelling” and said she would pass sentence next Tuesday.

Prior to adjourning sentencing, Judge McCormick heard that Donaghy pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to declare a change of circumstances. The 42-year old admitted obtaining Housing Benefit between February 2009 and August 2015 and failing to notify the Social Security Agency that she was living with her partner, and of obtaining Income Support between January 2009 and June 2015 in the same circumstances.

Crown barrister Kate McKay said Donaghy obtained an overpayment of just over £22,340 in Housing Benefit and an overpayment of around £122,630 in Income Support which she was not entitled to, whilst living with her partner.

The prosecutor said Donaghy’s offending started to emerge when an investigation was launched by the Department of Social Development regarding Housing Benefit on a house rented by Donaghy as a private tenant.

The court heard Donaghy’s partner was named as the landlord of the property, but that investigations revealed they were living together in the house “as husband and wife”. The court also heard that Donaghy’s partner had been in full time employment from 2000 until the detection in 2015.

When Donaghy was interviewed in August 2015, she admitted she had signed the relevant benefit claim forms, but had failed to notify of a change of circumstances.

Ms McKay said Donaghy initially made the case that her partner was just her landlord, and that he worked in England frequently. She also claimed he had lived in the house before she moved in, that he called in to check the property sometimes, that he never stayed over, and she denied they were in a relationship.

The prosecutor said that when evidence was put to Donaghy that this man was living at the property - including medical and employment records - she admitted they lived together and he was the father of her three children.

Telling the judge she believed the custody threshold had been met, Ms McKay said Donaghy’s offending “went on for a considerable period of time”, and revealed the overpayment was “one of the largest there has been in this jurisdiction”.

Ms McKay added that she accepted the money was not used to fund a lavish lifestyle, and that Donaghy came before the court with a clear criminal record.

Defence barrister Mark Farrell said that whilst Donaghy may have been reluctant at first to admit what she did during interview, “full admissions” were made.

The barrister said Donaghy had has had the case “hanging over her head like the Sword of Damocles” for over three years, which has heightened the depression and anxiety she already suffers from.

Mr Farrell accepted the amount of overpayment was a “significant amount of money”, telling Judge McCormick his client is voluntarily paying back £25 from her benefits. He said: “This amounts to £100 a month, so it will take 100 years to repay all this money, not including any interest. There is no extravagant living or lifestyle here, no fancy cars of foreign holidays.” Instead, Mr Farrell said Donaghy used the money for household bills and day to day living.

Mr Farrell also spoke of Donaghy’s “remorse, contrition and regret”, adding that she may have been eligible for certain benefits had she informed the SSA of her change in circumstances.

He urged the Judge to only consider custody “as a last resort” and said other alternatives such as a Probation Order would be more appropriate.

Judge McCormick told Donaghy she will be sentenced next Tuesday.

Source

P.S. Dave adds, "Handing Donaghy a 12-month sentence, the Judge concluded: "Her personal circumstances should be given considerable weight, and accordingly I am suspending the sentence for a period of two years."

Source

4 Oct 2018

Assets concealed in housing benefit fraud

A Renfrewshire man admitted claiming benefits on his mum’s behalf she was not entitled to - by failing to disclose all her savings while having Power of Attorney over her.

Stewart Connelly was authorised to act on behalf of his mother, Amelia Connelly, from Renfrew, between June 2015 and February this year.

He told Renfrewshire Council she had a bank account which contained £6,367 in savings, but she actually had six other accounts and savings totalling more than £43,000, taking her over the £16,000 allowance for people being allowed to claim Housing Benefit.

This led her to obtain £12,000 in Housing Benefit she was not entitled to.

The Department of Work and Pensions launched an investigation after it received a tip-off his mother had more in savings than had been submitted.

The probe revealed the extra £37,000 in her accounts and led to Stewart, 56, being prosecuted. At Paisley Sheriff Court last week, he admitted his guilt.

Procurator Fiscal Depute Pamela Flynn told the court a claim had been made on Mrs Connelly’s behalf in 2015 - before Stewart got Power of Attorney over her.

She said: “On October 28, 2016, the accused reported a change of circumstances. He advised her savings had slightly changed.”

He informed the DWP she had around £6,300 in savings but did not mention her other six accounts.
Miss Flynn added: “There was a referral to the DWP alleging his mother had savings. They made enquiries with Halifax Bank of Scotland and found with them seven accounts, with a total of £43,000 within.”

Defence solicitor Manus Tolland said Connelly had been living in London but had moved back to Scotland and was given the legal power over his mother, who passed away last month. He said Connelly “didn’t make proper investigations” into his mother’s finances and the money had since been repaid.

Sheriff Seith Ireland called for background reports to be prepared ahead of sentencing, and confirmation on whether the sum had been paid back, and adjourned the case until later this month.

Source

24 Sep 2018

Parent pretended to be tenant

A Great Yarmouth couple were involved in making fraudulent benefit claims amounting to £19,000 using a false tenancy agreement to pretend they were not in a relationship, a court heard.

Shannon Trett, 22, and Charles Dersley, 31, were at the time living together in Great Yarmouth and had a child together, but Dersley drew up a false tenancy agreement pretending to be her landlord, so Trett would be eligible to falsely claim thousands of pounds in housing benefit, Norwich Crown Court heard.

The court was told when challenged about the arrangement of charging rent to his partner, Dersley had said: “Nothing is free in this life.”

Trett admitted falsely claiming almost £12,000 in housing benefit and falsely claiming more than £7,000 in income support, by not revealing she was living with Dersley between January 2014 and February 2016.

Dersley admitted making a tenancy agreement to assist or commit fraud in January 2014 and July 2013. They gave different addresses in Great Yarmouth.

Judge Moore said that Dersley had played a prime role in the fraud by drawing up the false tenancy agreement.

She accepted Trett had been in a troubled relationship with Dersley at the time of the offences and was vulnerable but told her: “You accept you ought to have made it plain you were living in the house with him and he was the father of your son.”

She said instead she pretended he was her landlord and not part of the family unit.

Judge Moore said the fraud had gone on for some time, amounting to 127 weeks.

She said she considered Dersley to be a “prime mover” in the fraud and while Trett had been open when challenged, she said Dersley when asked why he was charging rent to his partner had replied: “Nothing is free in this life.”

She imposed a five month jail sentence, suspended for 21 months, for Trett, with 21 months supervision.

She jailed Dersley for 12 months, suspended for 21 months, with 21 months supervision.

She also ordered him to do 180 hours unpaid work.

She said she hoped he would not behave in this way again.

Source

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."

Source

3 Aug 2018

Glasgow police target large scale benefit fraud

Homes and businesses have been raided in Glasgow as part of a major crackdown on "industrial scale" benefit fraud.

Police said Operation Arnos, which targeted addresses in Govanhill, led to 16 arrests and the seizure of over 200 productions from a business.

More than 100 officers were joined by staff from the Department of Work and Pensions, HM Revenue & Customs, and Home Office Immigration Enforcement.

An organised crime group is behind the fraud, which could be as much as £4.6m.

Police said the first phase targeted members of the crime gang while the second focused on the facilitators.

The force confirmed 14 individuals were arrested on suspicion of benefit fraud, mortgage fraud and money laundering.

A woman was arrested on warrant and a man was arrested in connection with a cannabis cultivation, which included several hundred plants with a potential street value of about £200,000.

Fraudulent documentation was also recovered from a vehicle which had been used as a mobile office.

Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald said the offensive has been planned since late last year:
Today's operation is the largest of its kind since Police Scotland came into being. Quite simply it is targeting organised crime in one of our local communities here in Govanhill. What we are dealing with today is an almost industrial scale benefit fraud, an attack on the UK benefits system by an organised crime group.
Assistant Chief Constable MacDonald said the group had been active for some time:
This gang has been operating in and around Govanhill using local premises and a mobile office to carry out a variety of crimes, which are undoubtedly impacting on the local community. People have been claiming benefits to which they are not entitled and using false IDs but this activity has been orchestrated by individuals who are reaping millions of pounds from the benefits system while also claiming benefits themselves. We fully expect there will be more arrests as a result of this operation over the coming weeks and months.
Officers are also looking for evidence of people trafficking and illegal immigration.

A total of 37 premises were visited on Wednesday and a number searched.

The haul of more than 200 productions from a business in Govanhill included documentation and electronic devices.

Officers attended a number of addresses intending to speak to residents claiming housing benefit but several had clearly been empty for a prolonged period.

Clearly the checking to stop taxpayers' cash being wasted isn't up to much.

To date about £1.5m of fraudulent benefit claims have already been stopped

Bob Gallacher, senior investigations leader at the DWP, warned this type of criminality is occurring in cities throughout the UK.

And Joe Hendry, assistant director of HMRC's Fraud Investigation Service, said:
This is suspected benefit fraud on a massive scale. Benefit fraud is theft - it takes taxpayers' money from our vital public services and puts it into the pockets of criminals. We will continue working with our partners to investigate and stop these offences.

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2 May 2018

Mother admits fraudulently claiming nearly £13k in benefits

A Glenrothes woman has pled guilty to fraudulently claiming almost £13,000 in benefits.

Kelly Young appeared at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court where she admitted two charges of stealing tax credits and housing benefit.

The 25-year-old admitted falsely claiming £9194 in tax credits from HMRC after stating she lived alone between March 20 2015 and October 5 2016.

The young mother was, in fact, living with her partner Martyn Stewart, who was in paid employment during the 15 month period.

The court also heard how the fraudster falsely claimed £3772 in housing benefit from Fife Council.

The charge stated she failed to promptly notify the prescribed person in a timely manner to a change in her circumstances which affected her entitlement.

Young spoke only to confirm her guilty plea to Sheriff Pino Di Emidio.

She was ordered to undergo various reports and will be accessed to see if she is suitable for a Restriction of Liberty order.

The first-offender was told to return to court on May 17 when she will be sentenced.

Sheriff Di Emidio said: “I’m going to call for a Criminal Justice Social Work report. As you appear in front of me as a first offender, it would is very important that you cooperate with these reports. Once these reports have been done, I will decided how to deal with this matter.”

Young was originally charged with fraudulently claiming more than £26,000 in both housing and tax credits.

She initially pled not guilty to the two charges at previous hearings.

But she yesterday admitted the amended charges which state that she claimed £12,966 in benefits to which she was not entitled.

The dates in between which she was alleged to have stolen the benefits were also changed.

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29 Apr 2018

Benefits officer jailed over £15k fraud

A crooked benefits officer who siphoned thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash into a secret bank account after creating a fake identity has been jailed.

Aruoriwo Ononeme abused his position to defraud both Sandwell and Walsall councils whilst employed by them as a benefits officer, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.

The father-of-three, from Tipton, used his knowledge of the system to con his bosses, creating a false NHS medical card in someone else’s name and a University of Wolverhampton letter to back up his fraudulent claims which totalled more than £15,000.

Employed by an agency, Ononeme worked for both local authorities at different times between 2007 – 2011, eventually getting a job directly with Walsall Council as a benefits appeals officer.

At Sandwell Council, the 47-year-old claimed single person council tax exemption of £3,295 in the name of Aziz Mohammed Hussain, supposedly a student at Wolverhampton University.

He forged supporting documents, the letter and medical card, by making amendments to original copies on his computer, the court heard.

At Walsall Council, he set up a tenancy in the name of Ahmed Hussain, a fictitious person, giving the address of a buy-to-let flat in St Michael’s Street, Walsall, which he owned, and claimed more than £12,000 in housing benefit paid into a personal TSB account.

He again created false documents such as pay slips to back up the claim.

Mr Delroy Henry, prosecuting, said: “This defendant acquired a significant amount of knowledge as a finance officer of the way in which the benefits system works and claims are authorised. That was put to unlawful use when he worked for Walsall and Sandwell Councils."

The court heard Ononeme, of previous good character, has since set up the Nissi Homes charity for ex-prisoners, vulnerable adults and recovering addicts in the Black Country.

In his defence, Ms Samantha Powis said he had been motivated to defraud after falling on hard times following several periods of unemployment but had since turned his life around. He and his wife had suffered marital problems and split up but were now back together, the court heard.

"As a result, he became a committed Christian and put his time and knowledge to good use in setting up Nissi Homes. These offences are old and things have changed dramatically since," said Ms Powis.

Ononeme pleaded guilty to two counts of abusing his position in fraudulently claiming housing benefit, two charges of creating false documents, two offences of failing to disclose he was living as a married rather than a single man and one count of falsely claiming he was leaving the UK to live in the United Arab Emirates.

He was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

In a separate case, his wife Olamide Ononeme, 42, of the same address, has pleaded guilty to knowingly being involved in fraudulent activities regarding tax credits.

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26 Mar 2018

Suspended sentence for £56k benefit fraud

Great-grandmother Anna Sims wrongly pocketed £56,609 in benefits - after falsely claiming her husband lived in Spain.

The 72-year-old told the authorities that she lived alone in Bentilee and did not have a private pension.

But that was all a pack of lies and Sims swindled the benefits system for eight years.

Now the OAP has been given a suspended prison sentence and cannot leave her house from 10pm to 5am for the next eight months under the terms of her curfew. She is paying back the cash at a rate of £50-a-week.

Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard Sims had made a legitimate initial claim for pension credit in 2005, while living with a former husband, and the following year told the authorities she was now living alone. But she failed to reveal she was living with a new partner and continued to receive housing benefit and a single person discount on her council tax.

Prosecutor Joanne Wallbanks said: "In 2010, she completed a single person discount review form, saying she lived alone and her husband lived in Spain."

Sims pleaded guilty to three offences of failing to notify a change of circumstances and three charges of making a dishonest representation to obtain benefits.

Robert Holt, mitigating, said: "Mrs Sims expresses deep remorse for her actions and behaviour. She is well aware of what she has done. She understands the breach of trust she demonstrated by filling out the forms incorrectly and taking the money.  She has reached the age of 72 without appearing before the court, which is to her credit. She has now lost that good character."

Judge Paul Glenn handed Sims a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

He told her: "You never notified any change in your circumstances, and never did you ever tell anyone you were living as husband and wife. You lied on a regular basis and concealed the truth about your relationship. The public are sick and tired of people like you - benefit cheats. The activities of people such as you mean that worthwhile causes cannot be supported from public funds because they are diverted to pay for you."

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25 Oct 2017

Housing fraudster jailed

A fraudster who used another man’s identity to gain a council job and home as well as thousands in benefits has been jailed, a London council has reported. (h/t Fraudmanager)

An investigation by Royal Greenwich revealed Christian Ikediashi, formerly of Dawson Close, Woolwich, had used the identity documents of another man to get a job as a waste operative with the council in October 2009.

Mr Ikediashi held the post until 2013 when he was dismissed for continuous absence.

In 2010, he then used the same identity to submit a housing application to Royal Greenwich. He was given a one bedroom flat in May 2013.

The investigation also found that from August 2012 to July 2016 Mr Ikediashi had obtained Housing Benefit totalling £13,595 with the same false identity and papers.

Officers in the Royal Borough’s Internal Audit & Anti-Fraud team became suspicious when a National Fraud Initiative data matching exercise found that the man who Mr Ikediashi pretended to be had a council tenancy in another London borough.

Mr Ikediashi was charged with four Fraud Act offences and two offences under the Social Security Administration Act 1992. Cllr Maureen O’Mara, cabinet member for Customer Services, said: ‘This is a great example of the good results that can come from partnership working between the Royal Borough and various agencies. Had it not been for the National Fraud Initiative identifying that two council tenancies were held in the same identity this case may have never come to notice and Mr Ikediashi would have continued to defraud us of a much needed Council home. With the Royal Borough investigators collating all the evidence and locating him in Manchester there was only going to be one outcome for Mr Ikediashi and I am pleased to hear he has now gone to prison.’

‘Thanks should also go the Greater Manchester Police who assisted our officers all the way,’ she added.

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Social housing fraud is wicked, because it denies a home to someone needy.

16 Oct 2017

Benefit frauds ran for ten years

A retired nurse faked tenancy agreements to pretend she only rented her £400,000 home and cheat £66,000 in benefits.

Margaret Ayensu, 71, spent ten years keeping up her lie to claim pensions credit and housing benefit she was not entitled to.

As well as creating the fraudulent tenancy agreement, she faked multiple letters to support her claims.

Meanwhile Ayensu squirrelled away the government cash while living in a leafy lane on the outskirts of the well-to-do village of Storrington, near Horsham.

Ayensu was spared jail by a judge who showed her leniency because of her age and years of public service working as a nurse.

The former nurse was told she will have to repay more than £66,000 she fraudulently claimed after she admitted failing to correctly notify the Department of Work and Pensions of her circumstances, and three counts of using fraudulent documents to claim housing benefit from Horsham District Council.

Gareth Burrows, prosecuting, told Lewes Crown Court: “She claimed she had no income coming in and she was renting her property. She provided a rental agreement from a landlord in the name of Margaret McAlpine, but that was a name she had previously used. The property belonged to her. She claimed housing benefit from 2005 for the address that was in fact hers. She then subsequently provided a letter from a Cecil Grey confirming the rental. Again that letter was false. A further letter was provided in 2009 and that letter was on headed paper and again saying there was a rental agreement on that property. Again that letter was fraudulent. Whilst her deceit may not have taken considerable effort it was over a long period of time.”

Martin Williams, defending Ayensu, said she had fallen into financial difficulties after retiring and falling out with her daughter, but had not realised there were benefits available that could help her while struggling to meet mortgage repayments.

Recorder Tom Nicholson-Pratt told Ayensu: “If you had gone about this in a legitimate way you could have got some help.”

Agreeing to suspend the 12 month sentence he imposed on her for a year he added: “You come before the court for dishonesty over a considerable period of time, between 2006 and 2017. You provided false documents to support your claim. You must have realised as this was going on you could stop it at any time. But you perpetuated it.

“You are now 71 years of age and have some health concerns. I take the view that in the circumstances of this case I can suspend your 12 month sentence and there will be a rehabilitation requirement on you. I know you are not going to put yourself in this position again.”

Ayensu was ordered to complete 10 rehabilitation sessions and will have to reappear before the court on January 8 to ensure she has repaid what she owes.

Source

29 Sep 2017

Council crackdown uncovers millions of pounds worth of housing fraud

A crackdown has uncovered millions of pounds worth of housing fraud, according to council bosses. (h/t tenancyfraud)

Hundreds of cases of fraud or errors in applications for council housing were reported leading to dozens being marked as fraudulent.

East Dunbartonshire Council said the reports of fraud were up on previous years with almost 250 cases coming to their attention in the last year, with 42 marked fraud or containing errors.

Investigations led to 39 offers of a tenancy being withdrawn and a saving to the council coffers running into millions of pounds.

The council said each case of tenancy fraud costs and estimated £93,000 and affects others on the waiting list for housing.

The crackdown has, the council said, led to homes being unlocked for others who were further down the list who could have missed out.

The cost is estimated to be £3.6m saved.

The investigations also found three houses not to be occupied and they have since been reclaimed.

Another six homelessness applications were identified as having been made either fraudulently or in error.

The council said it has sent one case to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for consideration of criminal proceedings.

As well as the housing scams the fraud team also found Council Tax irregularities totalling £202,412, business rates evasion of £54,363 and employment-related fraud/theft of £1,139.

And on top of that a total of £89,337 was saved through the National Fraud Initiative.

The investigations across council departments found a range of fraudulent applications including for education places/funding requests and taxi licences.

Councillor Gordan Low, Leader of East Dunbartonshire Council, said, “Well done to everyone within the Corporate Fraud Team for their work over the past year. We have a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption, and are committed to safeguarding public funds. Rest assured, we will continue to work with our partners to tackle all incidents of fraud - protecting the public purse and ensuring fairness as regards issues such as social housing, Council Tax and school placing requests.”

He urged the public to help the council by reporting any cases of fraud to help keep council costs down and protect council services.

Source

28 Sep 2017

Dundee team spots £100k's of frauds

Specialist investigators have identified hundreds of thousands of pounds being claimed through fraud in Dundee, it has been revealed. (h/t Fraudmanager)

The city council’s corporate fraud team has also managed to claw back thousands of pounds which had been dished out to people, through a series of probes.

During 2016/17, the council managed to recover nearly £125,000 which residents had claimed or attempted to claim through a variety of frauds linked to income, parking, welfare, tenancy, council tax and even blue badges for disabled parking.

Further investigations took place into frauds by residents dealing with other departments including trading standards, legal and licensing, and children and families. Meanwhile, the specialist team also identified frauds worth more than £330,000 in the city linked to more than 260 housing benefits overpayments.

The details have been revealed in a report to the council’s scrutiny committee, on the work of the corporate fraud team (CFT).

The CFT was set up in 2015 and has responsibility for investigating allegations of fraud linked to a variety of things, including housing benefits.

Of the money recovered, about £38,000 was from fraud linked to council tenancies and blue badges.

There were 137 cases of fraud linked to council tax reduction, exemptions and discounts, worth just over £70,000.

Greg Colgan, the council’s executive director of corporate services, said council staff worked with a variety of agencies on their investigations — including Police Scotland. They have also developed a “whistleblowing policy” in order to identify possible cases of fraud.

In addition, the CFT plans to become involved in the serious organised crime group. It already works with a number of national agencies and networks, sharing intelligence and ideas with others across the country.

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23 Aug 2017

Council officials accused of housing benefit frauds of over £1m

A group of housing benefit assessors fraudulently claimed more than £1million using false names, a court heard.

The council workers then put the money into bank accounts set up with fake passports, it was alleged.

The seven assessors worked for councils across London including Kingston, Lambeth and Barking & Dagenham.

Rehel Asfaha, 35, Jessica Bartley, 33, Menelik Cowan, 36, Natasha Francis, 37, Cassandra Johnson, 36, Hugh Junior Small, 38, Alexandra Williams, 38, all appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court.

They all face charges of fraud by abuse of position while working at the different councils from 2006 to 2016.

Prosecutor Carley Loftus said: 'The allegations charged relate to a housing benefit fraud. A number of the people are appearing in court today are housing benefit assessors who worked for Kingston, Lambeth and Barking and Dagenham authorities. They have put in false claims using false identities and these benefits are paid into other people's accounts which are set up using false identities. The housing benefit taken in this case, the total exceeds £1 million that was defrauded. It includes an abuse of position of trust.

Asfaha, is charged with two counts of fraud by abuse of position while working firstly at Lambeth Council, where she pocketed £82,331, and then Barking & Dagenham council, where she allegedly conned the authority out of £182,907. She also faces two charges of money laundering by placing the some of the cash into different bank accounts. Finally she is charged with possession of fake identity documents.

Bartley of Stockwell, is accused of fraud by abuse of position while working for Lambeth Council, pocketing £71,600. She also faces a charge of money laundering £51,155 of the cash into a bank count on behalf of another, and another charge of possession of fake identity documents.

Cowan, from Enfield, is also charged with fraud by false position while working for Lambeth Council, taking £298,469. He also faces a charge of possession of identity documents and of laundering £150,759.92 of the money pocketed.

Francis, of Walworth, south London, is charged with fraud by abuse of position while working for Lambeth council and possession of fake identification documents.

Johnson, 36, of Brixton, also charged with fraud by abuse of position while working for Lambeth pocketing £179,078. She is also charged with of possession of identity documents and controlling criminal property namely £57,514 in housing benefit.

Small, of Fulham, faces a charge fraud by abuse of position while working for Kingston Council and is charged with possession of fake identity documents and controlling criminal property namely money.

Williams, of Brixton, is charged with fraud by abuse of position while working for Baking and Dagenham Council, taking £240,345, from the authority. He is also charged with possession of fake identity documents and controlling criminal property, namely the money from the frauds.

Also appearing at the same court were Donna Francis, 56, of Brixton, Samuel Hammond, 39, of Dagenham, Mgeini Khanye, 35, of Canning Town, Kyeshia Stratchan, 27, of Hackney, and Derek Williams, 57, of Brixton.

They all face charges of controlling criminal property namely the money from the frauds, between June 2009 and October 2016.

Referring to all 12 defendants, Ms Lofus said: 'The crown would say the powers of sentencing are insufficient in this court and I would ask them to be committed to the crown court.'

Magistrates chairman Victoria Readman declined jurisdiction and the case was sent to the Crown Court for a preliminary hearing next month.

All 12 defendants were granted unconditional bail to appear at Southwark Crown Court on September 19.

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