Showing posts with label local benefit fraud totals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label local benefit fraud totals. Show all posts

14 Feb 2019

More fraud to find, says Cornwall

Cornwall Council's fraud investigation team has helped with cases of benefit swindles worth more than £630,000.

Since April 2018 the fraud investigations team at County Hall has helped provide information to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 198 fraud cases which had an overpayment value of £636,086.

Further investigations saw the DWP raise fines worth more than £30,000 and 23 prosecutions.

The team also investigates council tax support fraud and investigated 32 cases which identified more than £40,000 in overpayments. These have resulted in 10 people being successfully prosecuted and in five cases penalties have been ordered of more than £4,000.

Tenancy fraud is another area of investigation for the team which had 62 referrals since April 2018 with 12 cases where keys were returned, four right-to-buy applications were withdrawn, two false successions were identified and stopped and two withdrawals from the homeless/Home Choice register.

Prosecution action is being instigated after the team found that someone was fraudulently using the bus pass of a dead person.

The team also investigated a case of the deaths of two pension recipients not being reported, resulting in overpayment of £9,856. Action is being taken to recover the debt.

Jason Pengilly, investigations manager at the council, told the audit committee that his team treats every report seriously and will investigate anything which is sent to them.

He was asked whether more could be recovered if there were more resources for the team.

Mr Pengilly told the committee: "The more we look for the more we find."


31 Jan 2019

Benefit fraud & tenancy fraud in Cornwall

Cornwall Council’s fraud investigation team has helped with cases of benefit swindles worth more than £630,000.

Since April 2018 the fraud investigations team at County Hall has helped provide information to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 198 fraud cases which had an overpayment value of £636,086.

Further investigations saw the DWP raise fines worth more than £30,000 and 23 prosecutions.

The team also investigates council tax support fraud and investigated 32 cases which identified more than £40,000 in overpayments.

These have resulted in 10 people being successfully prosecuted and in five cases penalties have been ordered of more than £4,000.

Tenancy fraud is another area of investigation for the team which had 62 referrals since April 2018 with 12 cases where keys were returned, four right-to-buy applications were withdrawn, two false successions were identified and stopped and two withdrawals from the homeless/Home Choice register.


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.


24 Jan 2018

43 benefits cheats prosecuted in Plymouth in the last year

Plymouth benefit cheats were convicted of swindling £850,000 from the public purse in 2017, shocking new figures reveal.

Forty-three defendants were sentenced in city courts last year, statistics show.

Figures released by the DWP show the number of people with PL postcodes convicted of false benefit claims.

The figures cover years of previous overpayments – with people pocketing money to which they are not entitled.

Judges have repeatedly warned defendants that the money they swindle could have been spent on schools and hospitals. But few are sent straight to prison, walking free to pay back the money they owe – again often over a period of years.

Figures include offences involving dishonesty, and separate charges which involve oversight rather than fraud.

The figures only include those people prosecuted in court. The DWP accepts offers of repayment from other false claimants, usually of smaller amounts which would be dwarfed by the costs of bringing a case.

A spokesman for the DWP said: “The department takes its responsibility to detect, prevent and recover benefit fraud very seriously as the money paid in benefits is taxpayer’s money. It is right that we ensure it is paid correctly, and recover any money that is paid incorrectly.”

Among false claimants convicted at Plymouth Crown Court last year was 54-year-old Jenette Bishop, who swindled more than £85,000. She pocketed three types of payment claiming she was living alone over a period of nine years – when in fact she shared a house with a partner who was in paid work.

Bishop, from Eggbuckland, pleaded guilty to three counts of dishonesty, failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting a benefit claim on different dates from March 2005 to December 2014.

Plymouth Crown Court heard how she had claimed benefits while going on several holidays with her partner. She was handed an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years after the judge said he could take “personal issues” into account.

Another woman told lies about her own and her husband’s income so she could pocket more than £30,000 in benefits – lavishing some of the cash on a trip to Australia.

Recruitment consultant Barbara Jones, aged 46, repeatedly submitted false accounts grossly underestimating the household earnings, Plymouth Crown Court heard in April.

Jones, from Efford, admitted six charges of making false statements to obtain benefit between 2011 and 2015. The court heard that she was already paying back benefits at a rate of £150 per month, which will take 15 years to pay back. She was handed a 10-week jail term, suspended for 12 months, with 180 hours unpaid work. She must pay £1,000 prosecution costs.


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.


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.


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.


2 Aug 2017

Over 40% of benefit fraud prosecutions are in Greater London

London's over-40s are the people most likely to get into trouble over benefit fraud, with women more likely to be charged than men.

The last year's records of fraud defence lawyers DPP Law show that more than two thirds of cases involved people over 40. The most honest age group was 18 to 24, with just one case that went to court. The data also showed a fair split between the sexes, with women slightly ahead at 52.

The biggest hot spot for benefit fraud was Greater London, with the area accounting for around 43% of the total. Merseyside was in second place with 35%. However, in a third of cases that went to court, the person charged got off.

"Our solicitors have worked on a lot of benefit fraud cases over the years and these results highlight the broad spectrum of these types of proceedings," says Stuart Nolan, managing director of DPP Law. "Many benefit fraud cases are often the case of overpayment, which can happen without an individual's intent to defraud. We've also seen a lot of the clients we have defended found not guilty. So, in the arena of benefit fraud, there are a lot of shades of grey."

It's the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that's in charge of benefit fraud investigations, with many staff located in local Jobcentre offices. Local authorities also carry out housing benefit and Council Tax benefit fraud investigations.

Those found guilty of benefit fraud are usually ordered to pay back the cash - and may also be hit with an extra penalty of between £350 and £5,000, as well as having their benefits cut or stopped.

Many people are caught via tip-offs on the hotline - like businesswoman Ncola Alcock earlier this year. Claiming to be living alone, she netted more than £81,000 in child tax credits and housing benefit over a period of five years. However, she'd been daft enough to post the fqact that she was married on her Barking Mad business website - and was shopped to the authorities.

And just last week, George Beacham was caught working as a binman after claiming he 'could only walk two yards in 15 minutes'.


14 Feb 2017

Benefit fraudsters con more than £1.7m out of Halton Borough Council

Benefit fraudsters have conned Halton Borough Council out of more than £1.7m over five years.

Figures released by the local authority have shown that con artists have taken hundreds of thousands of pounds each year between 2011 and 2015.

The numbers were obtained by the Weekly News after a Freedom Of Information request was submitted to the council.

The figures cover the financial years from 2011-12 to 2015-16 and shows that a total of £1,725,520 was stolen.

For the first year £387,322 was reported stolen, with £340,643 and £383,432 in 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively. The figure dropped in 2014-15 to £359,111 and £255,012 in 2015-16.

Numbers for the current financial year were requested, but the Department For Work And Pensions took over responsibility from the council for investigating housing benefit fraud in August 2015.

The council also revealed in the request that more than 2,000 referrals were received for benefit fraud over the time period.

The number of reports dropped in each year from 593 in 2011-12 to 487 in 2012-13. A total of 474 referrals were received in 2013/14, with 430 in 2014-15 and 94 in 2015-16.

Cllr Mike Wharton, Halton Borough Council’s executive board member for resources said: “The council receives housing benefit fraud referrals from a variety of sources including the general public. Up until August 2015 the council investigated housing benefit fraud. However, since this date responsibility has passed to the Department For Work And Pensions and referrals are now passed direct to this Government department.

“The council continues to place great importance upon detecting housing benefit fraud, as indicated by the fraudulent overpayments it has uncovered over recent years, to ensure that only those who are correctly entitled to receive housing benefit do so and the public purse is not defrauded.”

Note this is only the fraud the council was aware of, so there will have been more.

5 Jan 2017

Black Country benefit fraud

Over £6.5 million worth of benefit fraud was uncovered in the Black Country and South Staffordshire by Department of Work and Pension(DWP) investigators in 2016.

And that did not include minor fiddles, each involving £2,000 or less, which are estimated to have added millions more to the total value of the blitz.

Cases handled by DWP investigators resulted in 182 successful prosecutions while there were also 104 administrative penalties issued.

These allow those involved in frauds of less than £5,000 to avoid going to court by paying back the stolen benefit money with a surcharge of up to half that amount added to the repayment figure.

Almost 1,500 people living in the area were investigated.

So a very low proportion led to penalties.

Officials are also doing more than ever with Proceeds of Crime legislation to claw back the money pocketed by cheats.

People like 67-year-old trickster Thomas Wilkinson from Bournes Hill, Halesowen, who pocketed benefits by claiming to be unable to walk very far as a result of osteoarthritis – while appearing on stage throughout the country at £250-a-time in a Blues Brothers tribute act for seven years before the racket was uncovered. He was given an eight-month prison sentence suspended for two years and was then ordered to repay almost £22,000 within three months or be locked up for seven months.

Scheming mother of two Wendy Robinson, 52, admitted a near £100,000 ten year benefits theft and received an 18 month jail sentence suspended for two years because of her ill health after she appeared at Birmingham Crown Court in a wheelchair. She was among those caught out by a specialist surveillance team recently added to the DWP investigations team in Central England.

Another was 72-year-old conman Paramjit Randhawa, from Goldthorn Park, who pocketed disability living allowance while claiming to be scarcely able to walk 10 metres until pictured striding along a treadmill for 50 minutes during a keep fit session that also included squat thrusts and leg raises, at a gym in Bentley Bridge. He was given eight months in prison suspended for 18 months and later ordered to repay more than £20,000.

There are three DWP offices in the Black Country, where almost £5.2 million frauds were uncovered and one in South Staffordshire where over £1.6 million worth of scams were uncovered.


6 Dec 2016

Benefit fraud in Northern Ireland

The cost of fraud in Northern Ireland's benefits system has reached its highest level for more than a decade. Taxpayers shelled out £45m in the last year to cover payments drawn illegally - around £800,000 every week.

The bill for fraudulent claims has climbed to an 11-year high, auditors said. An investigation found "significant levels of estimated fraud and error" in housing benefit claims.

The shocking details are revealed in a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office. It reports on the results of financial audit work undertaken on the 2015-16 accounts of Government departments and other public sector bodies. One of its most shocking findings concerns Northern Ireland's ballooning benefits bill.

The total expenditure on benefits in the 12 months to April was £5.8bn - a staggering £15.8m a day. That is up £100m from £5.7bn in the previous financial year.

On all benefits, except the State Pension, the former Department for Social Development estimated overpayments due to fraud and error of £75.3m. This has fallen from last year - mainly due to less money being lost through official error.

However, the amount lost through fraud has spiralled, Auditor General Kieran Donnelly warns.

His report states: "From an overall departmental point of view, the estimated levels of overpayments and underpayments due to fraud and error were 1.7% this year compared to 2% in 2014-15. Customer error and underpayments due to official error have fallen significantly. But the estimated levels of customer fraud in the benefit payments made by the Social Security Agency, Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and Land and Property Services (LPS) increased to £45.1m and is now at its highest level since 2004-05."

The NIHE was a particular concern, with "significant levels of estimated fraud and error in housing benefit expenditure" reported.

Robin Swann, who chairs Stormont's Public Accounts Committee, said worries over the extent of benefit fraud have been raised in a series of Audit Office reports.

"The auditor has been consistently concerned with benefits," he said. "We are in the middle of a whole reform of the benefits system at the minute, so it is how that actually works out to countering fraud. On benefit fraud the numbers are actually down on previous years, but the level of customer fraud has increased. The committee will get a briefing on this report at our first meeting back in January."

The report says: "Despite the initiatives used by SSA (Social Security Agency) to counteract fraud and error, the level of overpayments remained at 1% of total benefit expenditure, the same as in 2014 against a rise in annual benefit expenditure of 2.1%. SSA continues to face a significant challenge to administer a complex benefits system to a high degree of accuracy in a cost effective way. The level of estimated fraud and error remains significant - out of total benefit expenditure (other than State Pension) of £3bn, estimated over and under payments total £60.2m."

They don't go looking hard for it, because they don't want to find too much.

In terms of LPS, the report found total housing benefit expenditure administered by it in 2014/15 was £42.3m. "Within this, the levels of fraud and error estimated by DSD's Standards Assurance Unit amounts to £8.6m in 2014/15," Mr Donnelly's report says.

This is 20%!

"I also reported on the level of outstanding ratepayer debt at year end, and the amount written off in year. The ratepayer debt outstanding at March 31 2015 was £156.4m, compared to £162.1m at March 31 2014. The amount written off in 2014-15 was £25.3m compared to £31.6m in 2013-14."

The Department for Communities said it was committed to tackling fraud and error and would highlight its success during 2015 in reducing both loss and underpayments, due to benefit fraud and error, from the levels reported in 2014.

"Nonetheless, the department recognises fully that any level of loss, while at 1.4% of benefit expenditure, still represents a significant loss of public funds," it said. "The department is determined to ensure the focus and investment in driving high levels of accuracy and low levels of fraud continues and the integrity of the benefit system, designed to help those in need, is protected."


12 Jul 2016

N E Lincs reports on fraud

Two members of staff have been dismissed from North East Lincolnshire Council for misconduct.

No more details were released in the Anti-Fraud and Corruption report, which also revealed overpayments in benefits of more than £550,000.

Covering the last financial year, the report - the eighth of its kind - sets out the council's policy on dealing with those who try to steal money, both from inside and outside of the organisation.

With responsibility for the investigation of Housing Benefit fraud transferring to the Department for Work and Pensions from November 2015, the Council has taken the opportunity to shift its focus to other areas of potential fraud , including council tax discounts and the blue badge scheme.

Between April 2015 and March 2016, enforcement action has included:

  • Initial investigations into Council Tax discount fraud identifying 13 cases of fraud or error from 23 completed investigations, resulting in on-going liabilities being increased by a total of £3,888.19 (from November 2 2015 to March 9 2016). Investigations also increased past Council Tax liabilities by a total of £18,149.64 increasing the amount of Council Tax the Council is able to collect.
  • A Council Tax investigation established that the owner of a property had evaded Council Tax for the property he had lived in since it was purchased, by claiming he rented it to someone else who claimed Council Tax Support to pay the liability. Investigation established that the owner had never left the property and therefore, they received a bill for over £12,000 in unpaid council tax. In addition, the Council stopped paying Council Tax Support to his tenant.
  • Another Council Tax investigation into the circumstances surrounding an individual's claim that he lived on his own has resulted in him receiving a bill for more than £3,000 in Council Tax. The individual claimed that he had lived alone and as such was entitled to the 25 per cent reduction on their Council Tax bill. The investigation established that the individual had been living with his partner for more than 11 years but had never declared this to the Council.
  • Investigation of Housing Benefit fraud and Council Tax Reduction Scheme fraud resulting in the successful prosecution of 29 individuals (including 14 joint prosecutions with the DWP) up to November 2.
  • Additionally, a further 12 individuals were offered and accepted either an Administrative Penalty or a Simple Caution as an alternative to prosecution;
  • Uncovering £236,283.10 of overpaid benefit (including DWP benefits) from the 41 investigations referred to above;
  • Benefit fraud investigation also uncovering a further £320,133.23 of overpaid benefits (including benefits administered by DWP) where no prosecution or sanction was sought up to November 2. Action is taken in all cases to recover these losses, either through deductions from benefit, or through the Council's debt recovery strategy.
  • Initial investigations into Council Tax discount fraud identifying 13 cases of fraud or error from 23 completed investigations, resulting in liabilities being increased by a total of £3,888.19 (to March 9). Investigations have also increased past Council Tax liabilities by a total of £18,149.64.

The outcome of one case has led to a policy regarding Blue Badge enforcement being drafted by the Council.


13 Jan 2016

Telford & Wrekin publicises its anti-fraud drive

About £700,000 has been clawed back by Telford & Wrekin Council by cracking down on people who have been fraudulently claiming benefits. (h/t Dave)

The council checked the circumstances of thousands of benefits claimants across the borough and realised hundreds of people were being paid too much. They blame the problem on claimants failing to report a change in circumstances that would reduce benefit payments.

Now people claiming too much benefit have been warned that they will be caught and forced to repay the money they owe.

Since December 2013, more than 7,600 claimants have been reviewed in Telford, saving the £700,000, and officers are continuing to check claimants at a rate of 600 per month. Shropshire Council is also carrying out a similar review, although it was unable to provide figures. Staff from the Benefits Service say every claimant will eventually be reviewed to ensure that no-one is cheating the system.

Richard Atkins, of Telford & Wrekin Council, said:
If we are paying out too much benefit for too long then it is our taxpayers that take the financial hit. We have a responsibility to look after every penny.
£150,000 has been saved over two years in council tax support alone. New rules will soon cap council tax benefit to £20,000, which Telford & Wrekin Council says will save it at least a further £241,000 in payments.

In September, the council launched a scheme that encouraged residents to report anyone they suspect of claiming benefits they were not entitled to. Fraud reporting tools were added to the council’s Everyday Telford app in an attempt to get more people to come forward and potential fraudsters.

And in March 2014, the council also held an amnesty for people to come forward about any council tax benefits or discounts they have been mistakenly claiming.

Telford & Wrekin Council said it must make £35 million of cuts from its budget over the next three years, after already cutting its budget by £70 million since 2010. That means that by 2019 total cuts will amount to more than £100 million.


14 Sep 2015

Complacency in Notts

More than £14 million of housing benefit was overpaid by cash-strapped councils in Nottinghamshire – with £7 million spent in the city alone.

Errors, claimants failing to inform councils of changes in circumstances and fraudsters trying to cheat the system have all been blamed by the councils involved.

The figures, released by the Department for Work and Pensions, reveal a total of £7.24 million too much was paid out by the city council from April last year to March this year.

It fared worse than both Derby City Council, which overpaid by £5.4 million, and Leicester City Council, which overpaid by £6.8 million.

The figure comes whilst local services are facing substantial cuts. Nottinghamshire Police, for example, has to find savings of £12 million in the next year.

Ian Roper, revenues and benefits business support manager at Nottingham City Council, said the authority was able to claw back a portion of the overpayments – £3.8 million in the same year – but said claimants needed to do more to help.

"Residents who are claiming housing benefit have a duty to notify us of any change of circumstances," he said. "However, to put the £7 million figure in context, the council paid out £151 million in housing benefit payments in 2014/15, and a number of the overpayments may well go back further depending on how long the change has gone unrecorded."

Among the other councils in Nottinghamshire, Ashfield Borough Council and Gedling Borough Council were the next worst offenders – with overpayments totalling £1.64 million and £1.34 million respectively.

But Councillor Michael Payne, portfolio holder for resources and reputation at Gedling Borough Council, said efforts are made to recover some of the money. He said: "We have rigorous recovery procedures and quick processing times which keep overpayments to an absolute minimum. In the last financial year we collected £600,000 in overpayments which can be extremely difficult when debtors often have no assets and are on low incomes."

And Ashfield District Council said it was working with the DWP on a "fraud and error reduction scheme" to try to reduce overpayments.

But Professor Bruce Stafford, who specialises in public policy at the University of Nottingham, believes there are flaws in the benefits system. He said: "It's very easy for people not to realise that they should have reported a change in circumstances. The government is introducing Universal Credit which might lead to an improvement. But the basic problem is that it's a very complex system, particularly with housing benefit."

The DWP claims Universal Credit will reduce fraud and error by £2.6 billion across the country. But some people aren't convinced.

Pat Sands, who works for charity Christians Against Poverty in Nottingham, said: "The whole benefits system is flawed. I think there are a lot of errors made on the part of the councils, as I've had experience of people handing in all their paperwork and then being told they've overpaid. I think Universal Credit is the biggest mistake the Government will make and I don't think it will help things."

Benefit cheats are to blame for a small portion of the overpayments.

A total of 70 people were prosecuted for benefit fraud in Nottinghamshire over the last financial year.

More than 35,000 receive housing benefits in the city alone.

A spokesman from the DWP said: "Fraud and error in the benefit system has fallen below two percent for the first time in a decade and we are committed to reducing it further."


25 Aug 2015

Gravesham reveals local fraud totals

Fraud investigators have revealed cheats falsely claimed £700,000 worth of housing and council tax benefits in Gravesham last year. (h/t Dave)

Gravesham Borough Council has identified £535,136 was wrongly claimed in housing benefits while council tax fraud totalled £173,390.

The money was uncovered after 636 investigations into fraudsters with more than a thousand allegations made in the borough last year.

Inquiries led to the recovery of 10 council properties and 13 convictions for benefit fraud offences. Fifteen cautions were issued for minor offences.

This is not much from 636 investigations, though!


23 Jul 2015

Benefits cheats take £900k from Sandwell Council in a year

More than 190 investigations were launched into fraud relating to benefits paid for housing and council tax in 2014/15. (h/t Dave)

Illegal subletting and not using a house as a main home were among the ways residents were found to be flouting tenancy rules.

The overpayments totalled £856,828, the council's counter fraud unit discovered.

Action was taken against 83 people caught fiddling claims forms - this ranged from formal warnings and fines to prosecution at court.

During the 12 months, 51 people were prosecuted, 13 were fined and 18 formal warnings were issued.

In addition, 21 were caught flouting the rules of the council tax reduction scheme leading to overpayments totalling £17,380.

Earlier this month convicted benefits cheat Rashpal Kaur , who made bogus claims totalling tens of thousands of pounds, was jailed for failing to pay back the money. The 47-year-old, of Europa Avenue, West Bromwich raked in excess housing and council tax benefit over six years after lying about her circumstances to Sandwell Council.

During the past 12 months more than 100 homes have been seized by Sandwell Council after tenants were caught misusing properties.

The council launched more than 200 tenancy fraud investigations during the past year and recovered a total of 115 properties.

The council said two people had been convicted of ‘right to buy’ fraud during the past year.

Figures released earlier this year showed the council is owed more than £2 million in unpaid council tax from last year. A total of 19,628 council tax accounts were not paid in full by the end of the 2014/15 financial year, the figures show.

This has left the council needing to chase £2.2m. But bosses say despite the outstanding payments, they have a high council tax collection rate in the borough.

In September, it emerged that more than 10,000 housing tenants in Sandwell owed money to the council for outstanding rent payments equalling more than £3m.

At the source site, one commenter adds:

  • As a council benefits officer, if a claimant is able to prove their entitlement to benefit they are required by law to pay it. The fraud is almost always the total fault of the claimant and to start investigating the council has to have reason. There are probably getting on for 500 claimants to each benefit officer so the odds are stacked in favour of the benefit thieves.

14 Jul 2015

Wolverhampton benefits cheats steal over £1m in a year

There were well over 1,500 cases of benefits fraud in Wolverhampton, in which cheats stole more than £1 million from the public purse, over the last financial year.

A report to the city council’s audit committee reveals there were 1,726 individual cases of fraud – a figure that far eclipses the yearly average for other councils in the country.

The average number of benefits fraud cases nationally is estimated to be 539, with a financial value of £853,072.

In Wolverhampton a total of £1,164,525 was taken in 2013/14.

Council bosses say the high figure illustrates the authority’s commitment to clamping down on benefits cheats.

By far the most common type of deception in the city was council tax discount fraud, with 1,507 cases creating a loss of £459,365.

Housing benefit and council tax benefit fraud was uncovered 177 times and accounted for £586,180 of the total.

Other types of fraud committed over the last year included ‘right to buy fraud’, of which three cases were identified, and procurement, of which one instance was found.

Despite Wolverhampton council experiencing such a high incidence of benefits fraud, there was some good news.

There were no cases of insurance or social care fraud found, despite them costing other local authorities a combined total of £1,738,962 last year.

Other councils also lost a total of £662,369 through internal fraud cases, while Wolverhampton council lost just £36,897.

There were also no cases of disabled parking fraud in Wolverhampton, compared to an average of 28 cases across other district councils.


Of course these figures only cover fraud that was detected.

7 Jul 2015

Why benefit fraud is unpoliceable

In Lincolnshire the annual spend on Housing Benefit is £160m for around 52,500 households.

Nationwide housing benefit costs £26bn.

The numbers in each Lincolnshire district are:

Boston Borough Council – 6,300
City of Lincoln Council – 9,115
East Lindsey District Council – 11,267
North Kesteven District Council – 5,017
South Holland District Council – 4,854
South Kesteven District Council – 10,052
West Lindsey District Council – 5,825

How can handfuls of benefit fraud investigators check these claims?

Authorities across the county report they have joined forces and report they are working together to support the Government's bid to cut the cost of fraud and error.

The Lincolnshire campaign, called Tell Us is encouraging claimants to report their changes in circumstances and will run until March 2016. The councils say they need to know about changes including:

Money coming into the home; such as pensions, wages, other benefits or tax credits.
People who live in the claimant's home.
Savings and investments.

As a priority, the initial focus will be on those considered a high risk of not having reported changes which means they may have received too much Housing Benefit which will have to be paid back.

Cllr Owen Bierley, chairman of West Lindsey District Council's prosperous communities committee said: "Anyone who claims Housing Benefit and has had a change in their circumstances that might affect the amount of benefit they receive should contact their local district or borough council immediately. Most residents will be claiming the correct amount, and therefore do not need to worry. However it is an offence not to declare changes in circumstances, and anyone found to be in receipt of Housing Benefit that they are not entitled to may have to pay back the money and could face court action or financial penalty. Tell Us. We want to help claimants avoid being in such a position."

There are simply too many claimants to investigate.

A campaign determined to get at the (probably unpalatable) truth would review all the housing benefit claimants within a small geographical area and publish the results - and then pick another sample, probably in another district.

And so on.

29 Jun 2015

Nearly £2m wrongly claimed in benefits from Bristol City Council last year

Fraud investigators uncovered more than £1.7million of benefits which were incorrectly claimed from Bristol City Council last year. The council's benefit fraud team investigated 745 cases in the 12 months up to March. This led to 130 people being prosecuted or sanctioned.

Three of them were sent to prison while 13 were given suspended sentences.

Curfew orders were placed on a further 14 to restrict their movements while 36 were given a total of 550 days of community work and had a range of fines imposed.

More than £700,000 can be retrieved if subsidy payments are collected.

A further £440,000 in fraudulent claims has been stopped by the team.

In addition, the team secured:

+ £26,600 in court costs;

+ £8,500 in compensation awards;

+ £14,600 in admin penalty fines imposed on claimants;

+ £82,800 in Proceeds of Crime Awards.

Benefit fraud is one of the highest risk areas for the council and employed its own investigation team until March. Since then, housing benefit fraud has been handled by the Government's Department for Work and Pensions as a result of welfare reforms. The change led to the council's team transferring to the Government department.

The report points out that the council still has a duty to pass on information to the department to make it easier for benefit scams to be uncovered. It adds that despite the staffing changes, the team continued to focus on more complex and high-value cases. They consistently met prosecution targets which are needed to deter scammers from falsely claiming benefits.

The report says: "The council has been well-served by the team - a highly regarded, professional and successful unit prosecuting or sanctioning more than 1,500 individuals during the last ten years following criminal investigations undertaken by them. The team worked continuously to deter benefit fraudsters by ensuring that this type of fraud was identified and stopped and to ensure offenders do not gain from defrauding the council or the welfare system."

Two members of the team have remained with the council and have now joined the internal audit's corporate investigations team. This will mean the team will have the experience to continue its own work on benefit fraud.

There will be regular meetings with investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions so there is a regular exchange of information.

Case study 1: A joint investigation uncovered Mr and Mrs C who had fraudulently claims benefit from both Bristol and South Gloucestershire councils. Mr C had been working as a self-employed builder during the time that benefits were claimed. The couple received more than £21,000 in payments and went on several foreign holidays during the period they claimed. They were sentenced to 16 weeks' imprisonment and made an arrangement to pay all of the money back.

Case study 2: A fraud investigator spotted that a landlord was claiming housing benefit at an address he had previously left. He had then sub-let the vacated property and claiming £8,122 benefit that he was not entitled to. He initially pleaded not guilty but the fraud team found several witnesses which made the landlord change his plea. He was sentenced to 200 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £3,000 costs.

Case study 3: Mr R was privately renting property in St George but when he left, his housing benefit claim was checked. It was found that he had failed to notify the benefits service that he had found a job and his jobseeker's allowance had ended. This resulted in benefits overpayments from the council of £3,226. Mr R declined to be interviewed under caution and the case was taken to court where the magistrates found him guilty and sentenced him to 80 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay costs to the council.


1 Jun 2015

Wolverhampton loses £650k to benefit cheats in 12 months

Benefits cheats have stolen more than £650,000 from the dwindling coffers of Wolverhampton City Council over the last year, according to a new report. (h/t Dave)

In the 12 months to the end of April, the authority initiated 187 investigations into fraud relating to benefits paid for housing tax, council tax and employment allowances - amounting to a loss of £651,300.

A total of 32 of the cases were prosecuted, recouping £222,000, while 28 claimants received a penalty and cautions were handed out in four cases.

But 123 of the cases failed to meet the authority's requirement for a sanction, resulting in a loss of £399,000.

The figures were compiled in a report by the Counter Fraud Unit, which investigates deception as part of the council's Audit Services.

The report states: "The council uses intelligence to identify dishonest benefit claimants and to actively pursue the recovery of fraudulently claimed payments and where appropriate penalise the perpetrator."

Finance chief Andrew Johnson said: "The cost of fraud to local government is estimated at a staggering £2.1bn a year - money which would better be used for providing local services. Wolverhampton City Council operates a zero tolerance policy on fraud and corruption; we won't hesitate to take action if we suspect fraud has been committed against the council – and, as a result, taxpayers – and we will make every effort to recover all monies stolen. This is demonstrated by the fact that, in 2014-15, we carried out 187 investigations into cases where claimants either provided inaccurate information in order to fraudulently claim benefits, or failed to inform the council that their circumstances, and therefore their entitlement to benefits, had changed. Wherever possible, we than take whatever steps are available to us to recover any overpayments."

A counter fraud App is currently being developed to make it easier for members of the public to report fraud. It is set to go live later this year.

As part of a nationwide shake-up the council's housing benefit fraud team will transfer over to the DWP’s Single Fraud Investigation Service next month.

Among those convicted in 2014/15 was 44-year-old Peter Harris, from Wednesfield, who swindled more than £17,000 by failing to tell authorities he had moved in with his partner.

One of the council's own benefits assessors, 56-year-old Anthony McHale, of Broad Lane North in Willenhall, defrauded £32,000 from Wolverhampton City Council. He set up and managed six false housing benefit payment accounts for fictitious people with fake national insurance numbers.