27 Jul 2018

Judge orders benefit cheat to pay over £19,000

A Suffolk benefit cheat has been ordered by a judge to hand over more than £19,000.

Stephen Thorne, 57, from Preston St Mary, was handed a suspended prison sentence in April after admitting submitting false claims.

He had failed to reveal that he was part owner of a property at Horsey in Norfolk when he submitted claims for Job Seekers Allowance and Income Support over a 10 year period starting in 2002.

The prosecution said the claims had never been genuine and were fraudulent from the outset.

Thorne has returned to Ipswich Crown Court for a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing designed to recoup as much as possible of what he gained from his offending - which specialist financial investigators found to total £19,233.

The same investigation revealed that self-employed computer programmer Thorne had assets allowing him to pay the full amount.

Thorne was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for 24 months. Judge Goodin also made an order requiring him to forfeit £19,233 within the next three months or have nine months added to his sentence.

When Thorne appeared in court in April, Judge Goodin was told that Thorne had made full admissions about what he had done when interviewed by officials from the Department of Work and Pensions in late 2016.

Thorne told investigators: "It is a relief. I've been worried about it for a long time."

Thorne said the property in Norfolk had been jointly owned with his late partner but he would not be receiving her share of the proceeds when it was sold.

He added: "I have no intention of ever doing anything wrong again."

Thorne had pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation to gain Income Support, failed to disclose that he has assets when claiming Job Seekers Allowance and obtained a money transfer from the DWP by deception.

Sentencing, Judge Goodin told Thorne: "This was a long period of dishonesty. It was fraudulent from the outset."

In addition, Judge Goodin said Thorne would be required to participate in a 30 day rehabilitation activity programme and complete 150 hours of unpaid community work.


23 Jul 2018

DWP investigator helped her husband with benefits fraud

As a benefits fraud investigator, Alexandra Stevens had been trained in how to spot bogus claims.

But that didn’t deter her from turning to fraud herself.

The 49-year-old is facing an uncertain future after being convicted of helping her husband to fraudulently claim £29,000 in handouts.

She was found guilty of providing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), for whom she worked as a fraud investigator, with dishonest information on a claim form she filled in for her husband Paul, 70. He, too, was convicted of benefits fraud.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard that forms submitted to back the benefits claims alleged that Mr Stevens needed care seven days a week to help with bathing, dressing, cooking, getting in and out of cars, and getting in and out of bed.

He was said to be in constant pain, which had got worse over the years, and to need crutches to get around.

It was also claimed that Mr Stevens could walk only 40 to 60 yards at a time after suffering severe back pain for 20 years. But when confronted over his benefits claims, the pensioner admitted he had walked up to 1,000 yards on some occasions.

And photographs and video footage shown to the jury were said to paint a different picture.

One showed Mr Stevens on a zip wire in a children’s play park. Another showed him up a tree pruning it with a saw. And a video clip showed him kneeling doing some gardening. Another photograph found at the couple’s home showed him ‘frolicking’ in the sea.

Mr Stevens had painkillers for his condition. But when investigators raided the couple’s home in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, in November 2016 they found unused stocks of painkilling drugs.

John Livingstone, prosecuting, said: ‘He (Mr Stevens) never reported to the DWP any changes in circumstances. His wife, has quite frankly, assisted him in his criminality.’

He said Mrs Stevens must have seen that it was necessary to report that the need for care for her husband was less. ‘It is amazing – considering what her job was – not to report that or advise her husband to report that change to the DWP,’ he said.

Before she joined the Essex North DWP investigation team in November 2015, Mrs Stevens worked in a similar capacity for Tendring District Council in Essex, focusing on housing and council tax fraud. She was sacked by the DWP last July.

Mrs Stevens, who married her husband in 2006, told the court she had put in his forms what he had told her – and filled them in because she had neater handwriting than him. She said she did not think that she had put anything dishonest or inaccurate in the forms.

She was convicted of one charge of dishonest representation to obtain benefit but cleared of another similar offence.

Mr Stevens was convicted of failing to notify a change of circumstances, and of making dishonest representation to obtain benefit. He was cleared of another charge of making dishonest representation.

Both had pleaded not guilty to all charges. They will be sentenced next month.

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20 Jul 2018

Benefit fraudster does it again

A mother from Deeside who wrongly claimed more than £130,000 in benefits has been spared a prison sentence after a judge accepted her plea that she was needed to care for her children’s special needs.

Jennie Andrews wept in the Mold Crown Court dock as Judge Niclas Parry told her her pleas for mercy had been accepted because of the special circumstances surrounding her children.

Sentencing her to two years in custody, suspended for two years, the judge told her: “This is an exceptional case...where the court should exercise mercy.”

He said he was satisfied the needs of innocent children would make a custodial sentence inappropriate.

The court heard that over an eight-year period between 2008 and 2016 Andrews received income support, housing benefit and, for a shorter period, council tax benefit while she was cohabiting with the father of her three children.

Prosecutor Ffion Tomos said the loss to the public purse had been £130,989, but the precise figure for the overpayment could not be calculated because Andrews’ partner, who was self-employed, had made no tax and NI contributions.

Andrews, 34, from Connah’s Quay, admitted two charges of benefit fraud, but was convicted of a third and appeared for sentencing at Mold Crown Court.

She misled Flintshire Council and the Department for Work and Pensions as to her living arrangements after she was initially paid income support and housing benefit from 2005 because of her low income and that she was a lone parent with caring responsibilities.

Andrews failed to notify the authorities of a change in her circumstances when her partner moved in.

When interviewed, she initially denied he lived with her and said they were just friends. She said she had not mentioned it because she was afraid her benefits would be reduced.

Robin Boag, defending, outlined the heavy domestic commitments faced by Andrews, who cared for an autistic child, while an older son’s behavioural problems had meant he had been placed at a residential school.

If she were to go to prison then the younger son would be forced to go attend school in Manchester and live with her father, Mr Boag said.

“On a positive level the way she has sought to cope with what life has presented her is to her great credit. Some people would have just given up,” he said. “Yes, she has behaved badly and cost a lot of money, but to her credit she has repaid some of that at £1,500 a year. At least it is some effort to repay something back.”

Judge Parry, who also ordered Andrews complete 200 hours of unpaid work and stick by a five-month curfew, said the aggravating features were the length of time over which the fraud was carried out and her previous similar conviction.

The court heard Andrews received a conditional discharge for making false representation to obtain benefit in 2002.

But the judge added: “In your favour this claim wasn’t fraudulent at the outset. And there is no evidence of a lavish lifestyle or luxurious spending.”

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19 Jul 2018

Couple wrongly claimed council tax benefits for 22 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Data matching again

18 Jul 2018

Slow benefit fraud enforcers can't find offender - from 2012!

Cotswold taxpayers are set to foot a near-£8,000 bill as council chiefs can't find a housing benefit claimant who received thousands more than she should have.

The district council cannot locate Agnieszka Lopatka, who received £8,004 in housing benefits across a two-year period after registering her address in the Melville Estate, Bourton-on-the-Water.

The council now have to use local taxpayers' cash to plug the £7,889 black hole until they trace Mrs Lopatka.

Officials first noticed the overpayments to Mrs Lopatka on October 8 2012 when she received £230 over two weeks, and failed to declare she no longer lived at her Bourton-on-the-Water address and re-located to Swindon.

The council's benefit fraud investigation team then found they were being advised to cancel Mrs Lopatka's housing benefit from 2011 because evidence showed that she had been living with her partner and was not living in Bourton-on-the-Water.

The review found Mrs Lopatka received £7,774.14 between May 2 2011 to June 3 2012.

Invoices and reminder notices were sent to Mrs Lopatka at her Swindon address, a document states ahead of the council's cabinet meeting.

The council had asked Swindon Borough Council twice over two months for details of Mrs Lopatka but never received a response. zzzz

The authority's legal department took the matter to the County Court, where the case progressed to the High Court but no enforcement was actioned as law chiefs were not able to trace her. ££££

The Government's tax department HMRC were also unsuccessful in finding her whereabouts.

The authority used a council tax credit of £115 for the Bourton-on-the-Water address to reduce the overpayment, leaving taxpayers' money to fill the hole at £7,889.

Efforts are still being made to locate Mrs Lopatka, who could not be contacted for comment.

Cotswold District Council's cabinet will decide whether vote through the write-off on July 19 at 4pm.


So how much has this very belated enforcement action cost local taxpayers?

17 Jul 2018

Benefit frauds in Scotland quantified

More than 4,500 blue badges belonging to drivers who had died were found in Scotland as part of a nationwide crackdown on public sector fraud and blunders. The National Fraud Initiative (NFI) also uncovered more than 4,800 people who were falsely claiming council tax discounts and 280 pensioners who have had their payments stopped or reduced.

In total, the scheme found £18.6million of fraud and error across the Scottish public sector, including benefits agencies, the NHS, councils, Police Scotland and dozens of other bodies.

The auditors used data matching, for example by comparing council tax records to the electoral register or blue disabled parking badges to death records.

Scottish councils identified 4,505 blue badges where the owner had died, with North Lanarkshire having the highest total with 751. Ensuring the badges are not incorrectly used in the future will generate an estimated £2.6 million in savings.

The NFI also found 225 public sector pensions that were still being paid after the person’s death and 55 pensioners who had gone back to work without their payments being reduced. Correcting these errors will be worth £6.3million.

Councils removed 4,802 incorrect or fraudulent council tax discounts – the majority of cases involving the 25 per cent single person discount – saving £4.4million.

A further 710 housing and other benefit payments were stopped or reduced, saving £2.1million, and 100 private care home residents had their payments stopped, saving £900,000.

The NFI also found 168 duplicate payments worth £1million, with the Scottish Government making payment errors worth £279,000 and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service £135,000.

Thirteen public sector employees were identified who were not eligible to work in the UK, including two NHS agency workers, along with five students who were receiving financial support despite not having permission to study in the UK.

Audit Scotland, which leads the UK-wide exercise north of the Border, said public bodies were taking action to recover £4.8million of over-payments.

Fiona Kordiak, director of audit services, said:
Systems underpinning public spending are complex and errors can happen. There are also some individuals who seek to exploit the systems and fraudulently obtain services to which they are not entitled. What these latest results demonstrate is the value of data matching to Scotland’s public finances at a time when budgets continue to be under pressure.

16 Jul 2018

Zimbabweans caught abusing the benefit system in UK

After my article on the Zimbabwean parents abusing their children for benefits (writes Masimba Mavasa), I was overwhelmed by calls and emails demanding that I write about adults who are abusing the benefit system in the UK. Many Zimbabweans are giving the country a bad name in the UK because of their love for money. Benefit fraud has been the most abused system in the UK and many Zimbabweans have joined the band wagon. Many have defended it without shame while have said they are taking our money which was stolen by the colonialists. Either way there is no and must be no justification of crime in any way. Eye for an eye makes the world blind. (h/t Dave)

A Zimbabwean by the name Shingirai Zvokunzwa made news when British fraud investigators followed a trail through social networking sites and immigration records to unmask the double life of a Zimbabwean benefits cheat. But justice caught up with Shingirai Zvokunzwa when a judge jailed him for 10 months for fiddling £28,000 from Reading Borough Council.

A court was told Zvokunzwa started claiming housing and council tax benefit in August 2006 when he told the council he was living alone and getting Job Seekers' Allowance. But three years later council investigators following up a tip-off discovered the house where he was living in east Reading was empty and neighbours said the occupant had moved to Canada.

But a full identity fraud investigation was launched jointly by the council and the Department of Work and Pensions after it was discovered Zvokunzwa had told his landlord his name was Tevin Mukonda.

The court heard it was then established that Zvokunzwa changed his name to Mukonda after arriving in Britain from his native Zimbabwe. In the name of Mukonda he had pocketed three years of government education grant on top of the state and housing benefits he had been claiming. He also got a student loan after enrolling at Reading University. But single students with no disabilities receiving full-time education are not eligible, in the majority of cases, for housing benefit.

Further information about Zvokunzwa was gathered from social networking sites, including Facebook, and it transpired that far from moving to Canada, he was living in Milton Keynes - where as Mukonda he had made another benefit claim.

Zvokunzwa admitted six offences of fraud when he appeared at Aylesbury Crown Court, and on top of the jail sentence he was ordered to repay the money he fiddled from Reading Borough Council. Hundreds of Zimbabweans have dipped their fingers into crime and have benefited at the expense of real sufferers.

Patrick Malati, a Zimbabwean living in Leeds, claimed over one hundred and fifty thousand pounds from the Disability allowance claiming that he was blind. Yes blind. He was arrested on a driving whilst drunk offence and it turned out he was a blind Zimbabwean on benefits.

The way the system works encourages people to claim benefits and avoid working for themselves.

There are many Zimbabweans in prison now for benefit frauds. Some are not yet arrested but the net is closing. Many Zimbabweans are working hard but their good efforts are being soiled by the few criminals littering the UK.


13 Jul 2018

Benefit fraudster had health issues

A fraudster who posed as her own mother to make ill-gained claims trousered £4,599 of taxpayers’ money.

Jenna Fritter, 29, was hauled before Folkestone Magistrates’ Court on two counts of fraud by false representation after pleading guilty at a previous hearing.

Fritter, from South Ashford, was snared juggling care allowance packages between two bank accounts in 2016 and 2015, the court heard.

Prosecutor Neil Sweeney added the benefits cheat posed as her own mother, Alison Fritter, to dupe the government into handing over the cash.

“There appears to be transfers of carers’ allowances, it changes particularly between two accounts,” he said.

"Miss Fritter in an interview said that the claims were made by her mum. Her mum made a statement to the effect that she did not make a claim at all.”

Fritter hung her head in the dock as Mr Sweeney read evidence to district judge Justin Barron.

The fraud was committed in December 2015 and June 2016, while Fritter was on a suspended sentence for assault, the court heard.

But after Judge Barron read a report detailing Miss Fritter’s “significant mental health issues,” he said: “I am not going to send you to jail today. I have read your psychiatric report and the issues you have had and you have made progress. I don’t think it’s useful to consider Miss Fritter to a curfew.”

There were gasps of relief in the dock from Fritter’s friend and partner as the verdict was passed.

Judge Barron said Fritter, who is on benefits and deemed unfit for work, must serve 15 rehabilitation days to “help maintain progress” on a 12-month community order.

Defending solicitor Stuart Green added efforts should continue to be made on improving Fritter’s mental health.

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12 Jul 2018

Benefit fraudster had drug issues

A Clydebank woman who claimed benefit money she was not entitled to has narrowly avoided a jail sentence.

Kirsten Falconer, 32, pleaded guilty at Dumbarton Sheriff Court to pretending to officers of the Department of Work and Pensions that she was Catherine Young, and gave a false national insurance number.

Prosecutor Martina McGuigan also told the court that Falconer told the DWP she was single, unemployed and pregnant.

She claimed income based Jobseekers allowance to which she wasn’t entitled and induced the DWP to grant her application and she obtained £1,294 of cash by fraud.

Ms McGuigan explained: “In August 2017 Miss Young was contacted by DWP about her Jobseekers Allowance and this is when it came to light. Investigations took place at the Job Centre in Clydebank and CCTV was viewed, payments were traced to Falconer and she was invited for interview. She told officers she had found a wallet on a night out and all it contained was a P45.”

Lawyer Scott Adair said: “She is repaying the money at £7 per week, which is being deducted from her properly claimed benefits. The wallet she found had no money or cards, just P45. It was a plan that was bound to fail. She has had a lot of drugs issues. This happened at a particularly low time in her life. She realises it was not an insignificant amount of money.”

Sheriff William Gallacher told Falconer: “This was a brazen and pretty mean thing to do. It was planned, calculated and a determined course of conduct and an abuse of the system. I am very seriously tempted to send you into custody.”

Falconer was given a 12 months community payback order to include supervision and also ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.


10 Jul 2018

Benefit fraudster exaggerated health problems

A benefit cheat who claimed he couldn't go 'walkies' was running a dog training business, a court heard.

Fraudster Paul Johnson, 53, declared to benefit bosses that he 'couldn't walk more than 20 yards' but was working as an HGV driver and operating Mere Brow Gun Dogs.

The businessman, of Preston, Lancashire, had claimed he used a walking stick and that he had to be accompanied when outside in case he fell, and exaggerated his conditions during a home visit by a health worker.

His lies led to him being paid more than £20,000 in benefits that he was not entitled, Preston Crown Court heard.

Johnson claimed he paid £1,000 for someone to help fill out his claim form to the DWP for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

He claimed the cash over a period of two years and 10 months, including a £5,500 lump sum as a backdated payment.

The court previously heard that Johnson had stated as part of his claim for disability benefits that he needed assistance when going to the toilet, and that he couldn't manage stairs.

Recorder David Temkin said he accepted he was remorseful but added: 'These benefits are designed to help people with long term health issues and disabilities so they can cope. Whilst, undoubtedly, you did suffer a number of ailments, nevertheless you made dishonest representations relating to your lungs, knees and general mobility.

'Even if you didn't complete it the words were yours and the lies were yours.

'If it's true you and another person conspired in this way it has the potential to aggravate your position. The fact you say you paid £1,000 demonstrates you knew you were in for some significant financial reward, though I accept this was not actually proven. Your Facebook profile was monitored and revealed the extent of your lies. Your physical capabilities were far better than you had stated.

'The fact is investigators watched you as you walked unaided distances of 800 yards. One investigator never saw you using a stick or having a carer with you.'

The court heard in one statement Johnson said: 'I struggle to stand for any period of time due to the pain in my left knee. I struggle to get in and out of showers. I fall a lot.'

He was given 10 months in prison, suspended for 18 months, a curfew, and must do 200 hours unpaid work.

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