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22 Jul 2019

HMRC misses fraud & error targets

HMRC missed its target for reducing fraud and error in personal tax credit overpayments last year, the public spending watchdog has said.

Erroneous and fraudulent overpayments increased to 5.7% of tax credits spending (£1.46bn) which exceeded the department’s target of 5% in 2017-18, according to a report by the National Audit Office.

The most recent estimates of fraud and error apply to 2017-18 but HMRC also expects to see higher levels of fraud and error in 2018-19, according to the NAO.

This because 270 full-time equivalent staff were moved from fraud and error workstreams onto EU exit ones, reducing its capacity.

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20 Jul 2019

'This is the largest case of benefit fraud by a single person'

An amateur actress master-minded a £750,000 benefits scam by hiding her father's death and faking illness for more than 23 years. (h/t Dave)

Ethel McGill, 68, was at the heart of a 'spider's web' of deceit that amounted to the biggest ever individual benefit fraud in history, officials believe.

The mother-of-two used her acting talents to con the authorities into believing her father, Robert Dennison, was alive for more than a decade after his death - even showing inspectors into his bedroom with an imposter in his bed - so she could claim his war pension and handouts for expensive round-the-clock care.

But despite raking in almost £600,000 in the name of Dennison - a former infantry man in the British Army during the Second World War - over 12 years, it was still not enough for greedy McGill.

She also faked several illnesses herself - including arthritis, asthma and later dementia - and claimed she needed a wheelchair to get around to secure her own disability living allowance (DLA) payments and lucrative care package.

But officials became suspicious when, during repeated visits McGill made excuses about why her father was not at home.

Covert surveillance revealed how McGill could walk around unaided despite claiming she was confined to a wheelchair and couldn't drive in order to claim mobility allowance

They began investigating and surveillance teams captured McGill out shopping, driving, walking and carrying armfuls of boxes and wooden shelving near her bungalow, in Runcorn, Cheshire.

They also discovered her acting profile on the StarNow website, in which she declared she had performed in many roles in amateur plays, ranging from 'a very hard hearted Glasgow woman to being a very timid domestic abuse victim.'

Chester Crown Court heard that even when arrested, in March 2016, McGill kept up the pretence, telling police Mr Dennison was 'away at the caravan' and feigning walking difficulties as police tried to take her to the cells. In reality Mr Dennison had died, aged 82, in April 2004.

The court heard McGill, who is originally from Glasgow, spent a month at a mental health hospital following her arrest, before five psychiatrists concluded there was nothing wrong with her. She has also since been diagnosed with 'factitious illness disorder'.

Today, McGill was brought into court by wheelchair, but a judge questioned whether she was still 'putting it on' and warned he would jail her when she is sentenced later this month. She admitted 14 counts of fraud and money laundering in June.

Judge Steven Everett, the Recorder of Chester, told her she was a 'very devious woman.'

'I'm sure you know what's going on Ethel McGill,' he said. 'Listen to me, you are insulting my intelligence.'

Judge Everett added: 'Let's be crystal clear, I'm going to send her to prison. It's like a spider's web and she is at the heart of it.'

He told the court he was forced to adjourn the case to Liverpool Crown Court, where there are better facilities for wheelchair users, but ordered McGill be effectively put under house arrest and forced to stay inside until 6am on July 29, when she will be sentenced.

The court heard McGill's fraud dated back to 1993 when she told officials she was confined to a wheelchair and couldn't drive in order to claim mobility allowance.

More than £590,000 was obtained in her dead father's name and included attendance allowances, housing and council tax benefits, plus his independent living fund care package, a war pension and council pension from when he worked as a binman.

Another £125,000 was claimed by McGill in DLA, plus another £27,000 was paid to her son, Christopher McGill, 28, in carer's allowances for looking after her.

McGill also persuaded Hannah Bazley, 25, the girlfriend of her other son, Anthony, 29, to help her con her GP and apply for a care package to support her fictitious dementia.

The pair hijacked the identity of an innocent woman to secure her national insurance number and make the fake claim, which totalled £3,700 over four months in 2014.

In a statement to the court, McGill claimed the money she claimed had gone to 'worthy causes', but prosecutors remain baffled as to what exactly she spent the cash on.

They said McGill, who has previous convictions for benefit fraud and obtaining property by deception, for which she received an eight month jail term, lived in a modest bungalow and there was 'no evidence' of a lavish lifestyle.

Stephane Pendered, spokesman for the CPS, said: 'This is the largest case of benefit fraud by a single person.

'Not content with receiving her father's pensions, housing and tax benefits under false pretences, Ethel McGill made good use of her amateur dramatic skills by feigning dementia to succeed in her own fraudulent benefit claims.'

Christopher McGill admitted one count of fraud by false misrepresentation and was made the subject of a two year community order. Bazley admitted two counts of the same charge and received an 18 month community order.

Source with pictures

16 Jul 2019

Woman who owned 4 homes fleeced the public purse for 4 years

A carer claimed nearly £30,000 in benefits in a four-year con despite owning four properties, a court heard. (h/t Dave)

Corinne Taylor claimed £27,694 in employment and support allowance (ESA) from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for more than four years from December 2012 until June 2017.

This was despite the 64-year-old having savings from rental income from four properties, Cardiff Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor Roger Griffiths told the court: “On December 29, 2012, the defendant made an application for employment and support allowance but failed to disclose income from rental properties amounting to £30,000 and the fact she owned four properties. The Crown became aware of the four properties and the fact she had a pension from previous employment. A total amount of £27,694 was unlawfully taken from public money when she had no entitlement to it at all.”

The court heard how Taylor had declined a formal interview with the DWP in March 2018 after receiving legal advice. Rosamund Rutter, defending, said “poor advice” prompted the defendant not to attend.

“She is incredibly remorseful and ashamed of what she has done,” Ms Rutter added. “She holds her hands up fully and realises she has to be punished.

“This is a very difficult situation to be in, someone who has worked hard for the majority of her life. She does accept what she did was wrong."

Taylor, who now works as a full-time carer for her mother, also suffers from a number of medical conditions, the court heard. She is also in the process of selling off one of her properties to pay the debts.

Taylor, of Pembroke Dock, pleaded guilty to one count of dishonestly making a false statement for benefit.

She was sentenced to eight months imprisonment suspended for eight months. Judge Nicola Jones said: “I find that a woman of your age and character that there is sufficient punishment for you to have this hanging over your head."

Character?

Source with picture

15 Jul 2019

"Benefits bosses told me to ignore bogus claims"

She is a devoted grandmother who has spent almost three decades working on the front line of Britain's benefits system, driven by a desire to help the vulnerable people who depend on state help to make ends meet. (h/t Dave)

But today, the long-serving official – who had been looking forward to a quiet, well-earned retirement – has turned whistleblower, feeling compelled to speak out over a new 'epidemic' of fraudulent claims following the introduction of Universal Credit.

It is an issue that her bosses are well aware of, says the woman, who we shall call Susan. Yet instead of clamping down on the flagrant, wholesale abuse of taxpayers' money, benefits chiefs are turning a blind eye to the cheats – because they are running sacred of being targeted by Left-wing critics.

A spate of stories from the BBC, Guardian and Mirror earlier in the year claimed that the new system was causing hardship and poverty – but many of the reports have subsequently been debunked by The Mail on Sunday.

However, senior managers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have told staff to approve applications for advanced payments even when the claims are obviously fake, the whistleblower says, for fear of attracting more negative headlines.

The woman, in her 50s, has come forward to this newspaper to expose the wrongdoing after becoming sickened at what she saw. With her voice quivering with barely controlled fury, she told us: 'In all the years I've worked there, the level of fraudulent claims has never been this high, and instead of preventing them, we're handing out the money and making it so easy.'

In a disturbing account that will shock every taxpayer, she revealed:


  • One man entered the names of three made-up children as Fish, Chips and Beans – yet still received his advance payment;
  • Some fraudsters fleece the taxpayer for as much as £1,500 a time in advance payments
  • Gangs of organised criminals are coercing vulnerable people into making fraudulent claims, then splitting the proceeds;
  • Senior officials admit that a large fraction of claims are bogus, but say stopping the fraud is not 'a priority'.

Even though there is a legal protection for whistleblowers, the official fears the backlash from her bosses and has asked that we do not use her real name.

Universal Credit was conceived by former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to combine six separate benefits – including Jobseeker's Allowance and Housing Benefit–- into one single, efficient monthly payment.

Despite fierce criticism from the Labour Party, it was introduced last year as a lynchpin of the Government's welfare reforms, to run in parallel with the existing benefits system. New claimants – or those whose circumstances change – now automatically go on to Universal Credit.

But in March, amid a tide of stories claiming that the new system was causing hardship, the current Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd lifted a cap on claiming benefits for more than two children and allowed claimants to be given advance payments to ease the transition.

Almost as soon as the rules were relaxed, Susan saw a sudden upsurge in bogus claims – many of them blatant. It seemed that the DWP, stung by the avalanche of adverse publicity, had decided to open the taps and let the money flow.

Susan learned just how widespread such fraud was in a mass telephone conference – known in the DWP as a 'Telekit'. Hundreds of staff listened in as the North of England's operations director for Universal Credit, Colin Stewart, addressed them about the issue.

'At each desk in the open plan office there were three or four of us huddled around a phone on speaker,' recalled Susan.

'When Mr Stewart mentioned the massive rise in fraud levels, everyone looked at each other – not so much in astonishment, but nodding, as if to say, 'I thought as much. I actually felt a bit pleased, because I thought that, at last, something would be done. But then he said it wasn't a priority to stop the payments going out ,which left everyone staring at each other open-mouthed.'

Senior officials claimed that, instead of stopping the money going out in the first place – which might cause hardship for genuine claimants – the strategy would be to pursue fraudsters once they had received the money.

However, the DWP has a woeful record in clawing back fake claims and bringing cheats to justice, with just five per cent of fraudsters going to jail in 2012.

Susan said that staff were told in the telephone conference that the fraud problem was worst in the North West and North East, but was spreading out across the country as people invented fictitious children and inflated their housing costs.

Susan said she did not think that was an accurate appraisal, explaining: 'My theory is that the fraud is actually nationwide but it's been picked up more quickly in the North because the staff in that area tend to be longer serving, whereas in the South East there's a huge turnover in DWP staff and not as much experience to draw upon. Me and my colleagues have been there for decades and we know the signs to look for.'

Even more concerning than the individual fraudsters were the reports aired during the telephone conference about gangs of criminals coercing vulnerable people to make bogus claims.

The staff were told that the gangs would approach people in pubs, ascertain they had their own bank account, then persuade them to apply for what they would describe as a 'free loan' from the DWP by claiming that they paid a huge amount in rent or had a large number of fictitious children.

Susan said: 'If the criminals help them with their claim, the crooks then take a percentage of the money that comes in. For example, some people are making claims for housing costs when in fact they live with their parents so they don't have any rent to pay.'

A number of Susan's colleagues flagged up their suspicions about claims they believed to be fraudulent and requested an 'inhibitor' – a stop on payments. However, they were stunned to have their request turned down by senior officials.

'We asked why and we were just told, 'it's politics,' ' said Susan.

'Basically there had been so many negative stories about people waiting weeks and months for their payments when Universal Credit was first rolled out, that the department has gone completely the other way.

'Some of those stories were genuine, some exaggerated, but this was absolute madness. Staff have been becoming increasingly frustrated for quite a while, especially when you bear in mind that people are receiving advances which are more than their monthly wage.

'There is nothing to stop someone making more than one claim, believe it or not, and one particular claimant has had multiple advances in a very short time.

'The highest I've heard of is £1,500 in one go, but if you said you had eight children and very high housing costs, the sky is the limit.

'We see these claims coming in but when we flag it up to senior management we are told directly to do nothing about stopping it 'because of the politics' involved.

'We do report them to the fraud team, but I've no idea what action is subsequently taken.

'We could stop an advance on the basis that we suspected a person had money in savings because the benefit is means-tested. However, staff have been directed not to do that in the last month.'

Susan explained how ridiculously simple it was to make a bogus claim. 'When you go on the website to make your first claim, it calculates what would be due to you and tells you when you will get your first payment, usually in a month's time. But it also gives you the option to ask for an advance payment which will come to you in just three working days – and before any of the details you submitted online are verified. You can't even open a bank account these days without presenting several forms of ID and proof of address, and yet people are having advances of up to £1,500 without any verification.

'The staff are well aware of it when these claims come through the system.'

The shameless nature of the fraud is, in some cases, entirely transparent, with no attempt at all made to come up with a convincing story.

She said: 'One man claimed his children were called 'Fish', 'Chips' and 'Beans'. In other cases the children's dates of birth were so close together it would be a medical impossibility for them to have the same mother. But the system does not reject such daft claims – the money gets paid into their account nevertheless.

'It may well be that these people will be the subject of legal or criminal action further down the line if they don't progress their claim, but maybe people feel there's a chance they might get away with it.'

The DWP has an abysmal record for clawing back ill-gotten gains and bringing cheats to book that gives little hope that the millions of misspent taxpayers' money will be recovered, even though staff were told at the teleconference that the number of fraud investigators will rise by 30 per cent. Figures released last year revealed that benefit fraud cost more than £3.8 billion – up £200 million on the year before – with about 5,000 people convicted.

Susan fears that because Universal Credit operates online with little of the human element, it leaves it more vulnerable to fraud.

She said: 'Under the old system, before Universal Credit we had something called a short-term benefit advance, which was at the discretion of an adviser to discuss how much the person needed, and then decide on an amount.

'It would usually be for about £50 or so – not the huge sums which are going out now. The figures are higher because Universal Credit replaces six benefits – including housing, which is the biggest.

'The trouble is the calculation is virtually instant, but it's based entirely on the information the claimant is putting in, which only gets verified at a later stage.'

A DWP spokesman said last night: 'Benefit fraud is a crime that diverts money from those who really need it and we are determined to catch the small minority who cheat the system.

'We remain vigilant to all forms of fraud and investigate, and prosecute, where appropriate.

'We are constantly refining our processes to ensure Universal Credit remains both accessible and secure, with those who need support getting it.'

Source

As we have repeatedly said here, the DWP is overwhelmed but wants to hide the problem from the public.

5 Jul 2019

Repeat benefit fraud offender jailed

A woman who wrongly claimed £16,000 worth of benefits has been jailed.

Hayley Mercer previously walked out of court having been convicted of benefit fraud, when she was given a suspended sentence. But six months later she was on the fiddle again, and has now been jailed.

Mercer, 56, pleaded guilty to fraudulently claiming council tax benefit, housing benefit and employment support allowance from 2012 to 2017.

Bristol Crown Court heard she received some £16,000 she was not entitled to.

The bookkeeper, from Bristol, was jailed for 60 weeks, which included 10 weeks of the previously suspended 12-week sentence.

The Recorder of Bristol His Honour Judge Peter Blair QC said: "You are 56 and not in the best of health.

"References speak of you as an honest and trustworthy person; little do they know.

"You are not honest or trustworthy. It seems you regard the public purse as fair game in order to keep you afloat when you find yourself in difficult circumstances.

"You have run out of chances. You made choices and choices come with consequences."

Felicity Payne, prosecuting, said Mercer admitted making some claims in her husband's name.

Matters came to light when employers gave information to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which didn't tally with what Mercer was telling them.

Mercer had seven convictions for 23 previous offences including failure to notify change of circumstances and making false representations.

Daniel Woodman, defending, said Mercer's first husband died suddenly.

He told the court: "He died with significant debt. It transpired he was a heroin user who had been frequenting prostitutes and Class A drugs. That have rise to threats to the family and concerns for their health."

Mr Woodman said his client married again, only for her second husband to die leaving gambling debts.

He said Mercer was earning and would be able to continue making repayments against what she owed.

Source

3 Jul 2019

Eleven charged with organised benefit fraud crime

Eleven people have been charged in connection with an investigation into an alleged £500,000 benefits scam and theft from homeless people.

The arrests follow dawn raids at seven properties in Blackburn as part of operation cactus, which is looking into the suspected fraudulent payment of disability benefits.

It is also looking at the alleged exploitation of vulnerable tenants with complex needs, through the control of their bank cards as well as the direct payment of universal credit and housing benefits into the bank accounts of home owners renting out their properties. Police said some of the alleged victims are homeless and have drug and alcohol misuse issues.

Four women and eight men were arrested during yesterday's raids and police have now confirmed that 11 of those have been charged.

Khalida Zarif, 49, of Preston New Road, Blackburn has been charged with conspiracy to defraud, theft and dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to loss.

Sakib Zarif, 31, of Preston New Road, Blackburn, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud, theft and dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to loss.

Faisal Zarif, 30, of Preston New Road, Blackburn, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to loss.

Atif Zarif, 19, of Preston New Road, Blackburn, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to loss.

Anisa Zarif, 24, of Preston New Road, Blackburn, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to loss.

Fozia Zarif, 28, of Columbia Way, Blackburn, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to loss.

David Neale, 51, of Kirby Road, Blackburn, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to loss.

Anthony Preece, 46, of Shear Brow, Blackburn, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to loss.

Mohammed Zarif, 59, of Redlam, Blackburn, has been charged with dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self/another or cause/expose other to loss.

Patrick Leggat, 43, of Selbourne Street, Blackburn, and Mohammed Sadiq, 45, of Hollin Bridge Street, Blackburn, have both been charged with theft.

They have all been released on bail to appear at Blackburn Magistrates Court on July 18.

A 36-year-old woman, from Blackburn, arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud and theft has been released under investigation pending further enquiries.

Source

2 Jul 2019

Benefit fraud couple didn't declare inheritance

A husband and wife fraudulently claimed more than £25,000 in state benefits by failing to tell the authorities they had inherited nearly £150,000 between them.

Kevin and Geraldine Daniels did not inform the Department for Work and Pensions their circumstances had changed considerably and they continued to receive Income Support.

Speaking at Cardiff Crown Court , Kevin Daniels’ barrister Jeffrey Jones said the couple were “ashamed” of their actions.

The court heard Kevin Daniels made a legitimate claim for Income Support in March 2005, stating he was a carer for his disabled son and did not have savings of more than £16,000.

Thomas Roberts, prosecuting, said he should have told the authorities about any change in circumstances affecting their entitlement to benefits. He said the couple did not declare that Geraldine Daniels started working at Peacocks clothes shop in July 2008, which would have reduced the amount of Income Support she was paid.

Prosecutors said the pair inherited £149,000 between 2015 and 2017, taking their savings well over the £16,000 threshold.

But they did not declare their inheritance money and continued to receive Income Support, with their total overpayment just over £25,000.

When he was interviewed in February last year, Kevin Daniels said he thought the savings threshold was £30,000.

He said he had received just over that amount in inheritance and did not think he needed to declare it, as he had given some to his children and spent some on the house.

Kevin Daniels accepted his wife had been working for a number of years and they had not reported her earnings.

Mr Roberts said there would be no application under the Proceeds of Crime Act, as the couple had repaid all the money.

The court heard they had no previous convictions and were judged to present a low risk of re-offending.

Mr Jones said the inheritance money came from three different inheritances over a two-year period, not in one big lump sum. He stressed their claim was not fraudulent from the outset and they still care for their adult son.

Julia Cox, for Geraldine Daniels, said her client balanced work with caring for her son, which would have reduced her entitlement to Income Support, but not taken it away completely.

Judge Tracey Lloyd-Clarke noted the couple had repaid the amount in full, so there was no loss to the taxpayer. There was no order for compensation, but they must pay £340 towards costs.

She gave them each a 24-week jail term, suspended for 18 months, and ordered them to complete 20 hours of a rehabilitation activity, plus 180 hours of unpaid work.

Source with picture

Benefit cheat makes her crime pay

A grandmother who falsely claimed more than £43,000 in benefits and went on holiday has been ordered to pay back a fraction of that sum. (h/t Dave)

Geraldine Thomas was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, in July last year and was back in court on Friday for a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing.

At her sentencing hearing , Recorder Patrick Harrington QC noted the money was spent on “an expensive holiday”.

The court heard she fraudulently claimed more than £43,000 in benefits over a five-year period.

Prosecutors said she failed to notify the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Caerphilly council of a change in her circumstances between 2011 and 2016.

She claimed Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction on the basis she was living alone.

But she was actually living with her partner, Raymond Adams, who was contributing to the household income.

During the sentencing hearing at Newport Crown Court , the court was told she used the money to fund a number of holidays to destinations such as Egypt for her and her partner.

The DWP and Gwent Police launched an investigation, monitoring Thomas and Mr Adams over a number of years.

They used a “search and seizure” order to enter the defendant’s home and gain evidence.

Thomas, 55, from Bargoed, admitted three counts of benefit fraud.

Kathryn Lane, defending, said her client – a grandmother-of-two – had never been before the courts before.

She said: “[Thomas] foolishly engaged in this offending and is thoroughly ashamed and embarrassed by it. She is a valued and routinely relied and depended-upon family member and a valued member of the community. There have been a number of bereavements of close family members recently which has had an effect on her and she has been picking up the pieces of those closest to her.”

Recorder Harrington said: “No mention has been made of your lifestyle and I know what the money has been spent on. It was spent on an expensive holiday wasn’t it?

“Benefit fraud is rife and costs honest hardworking people a lot of money.”

During the Proceeds of Crime Act hearing at Cardiff Crown Court , it was found she wrongly gained £43,015.10 from her offending.

She had £6,500 available and was ordered to pay that amount within three months, or risk going to prison for three months.

Source with pictures

1 Jul 2019

Judge says £50k benefit fraud was "out of character"!

A couple from Barry claimed nearly £50,000 in benefits by pretending one was the other one's landlord, a court heard. (h/t Dave)

Lace Eileen Perrett, 56, claimed both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Housing Benefit between March 2013 and November 2017 from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and her local authority, the Vale of Glamorgan Council .

But just months after declaring she lived on her own and was unable to work her partner, Leon Ronald Harris, 58, was living with her.

Prosecutor Thomas Roberts told Cardiff Crown Court on Thursday that from August 2013: "She was maintaining a common household with Harris. That change in circumstance was never reported."

On a form dated January 30, 2017, both Perrett and Harris signed to claim benefits saying that Harris was the landlord and Perrett was the tenant. In total the pair received in £47,111 between August 2013 and November 2017 in benefits they were not entitled to.

During those four years the pair also went on three holidays together, enjoying trips to Bulgaria, Kos, and Spain. But the couple were investigated after an anonymous online tip was reported to the DWP.

Perrett was charged with two counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstance of entitlement to social security benefit and one count of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit.

Harris was charged with one count of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit after the declaration on the form in January 2017.

Both pleaded guilty to the charges at Cardiff Magistrates Court on May 14 this year.

In mitigation Perrett, through her representative Sophie Hill, said she suffered with several medical conditions including diabetes, COPD, asthma, and a degenerative spinal condition.

Harris, who represented himself, said: "I regret it and I'll never do anything like this again. I'm really sorry."

The court heard how the pair were now repaying the overpayment in monthly instalments and were both previously of good character. The couple were both handed 12-month prison sentences suspended for 20 months.

Perrett was also ordered to undertake 20 sessions of rehabilitation activities and Harris was ordered to undertake 150 hours of unpaid work.

Judge Nicola Jones said when handing down her sentence: "This is entirely out of character for both of you and I accept you both have genuine remorse. I doubt very much either of you will commit an offence again."

Source with pictures

28 Jun 2019

Mother in benefit fraud *again*

A "cunning attention-seeker" who claimed she was dying of cancer to con £19,000 in benefits has been spared jail.

Mum-of-three Gemma Goodwin, 36, not only lied about having a terminal diagnosis but also that she had the serious and debilitating autoimmune condition, Lupus.

A court heard the 36-year-old, from Kent, even forged letters purporting to be from medical experts to back-up her lies.

As a result, she received £18,923 personal independence payments from the Department of Work and Pensions for two-and-a-half years.

The allowance, commonly known as PIP, is designed to assist those with the extra costs of a long-term health condition or disability.

But Maidstone Crown Court heard that Goodwin's claim was fraudulent from the outset.

It also took place just three years after she was convicted of another scam in which she obtained approximately £40,000 in housing benefit.

Now working part-time in accounts for a tyre company, she is currently repaying the overpayment at a rate of £12.50 a month.

On that basis it will take her a staggering 126 years to pay it all back.

On Tuesday, sobbing Goodwin was given a 16-month jail term suspended for two years, despite Judge Philip Statman remarking during the hearing that having dependant children was not a 'get out of jail card'.

Taking the unusual step of asking Goodwin to leave the dock and stand in the witness box, Judge Philip Statman told her: "I am just persuaded as a pure act of mercy and because of the concerns that I have for your children that I'm going to suspend the sentence of imprisonment upon you.

"I have taken the view after long and careful consideration that to send you to prison today would have not only deprived three children of their mother but also wrecked three young lives."

But the judge said he was also imposing stringent conditions of a nine-month, tagged nightly curfew, 180 hours of unpaid work and 30 days' rehabilitation activity requirement to reflect society's concern as to why he had 'come down in her favour'.

"You richly deserve to go to prison immediately. This was a sophisticated fraud and there was a degree of cunning in what you did," added Judge Statman.

"By defrauding this particular amount that is set aside by society for PIP, you place even greater pressure upon that fund which is already stretched to extreme by those who make legitimate claims.

"There are many people in the community with children of a young age who are trying to work as hard as they can and it doesn't lead them to steal or commit fraud in the manner that you have.

"I have taken account of the aggravating and mitigating factors in your case....On that particular balance, I have formed the view that the punishment I have served upon you is the right and proper one. It is justice tempered with mercy."

Defence barrister Peter Alcock had told the court it could impose a non-custodial sentence by reason of Goodwin's desire to repay, together with her mental health, guilty pleas, employment and the impact of a prison sentence on her children.

Furthermore, he added her offending was motivated by 'attention-seeking and sympathy' rather than a luxury lifestyle, and that she simply used the money 'to smooth a difficult existence' of bringing up three children alone.

Goodwin, from Dartford, Kent, admitted four offences of benefit fraud and two of furnishing false information.

She had cried in the dock as reference was made to her three children, now aged 12, nine and eight.

Judge Statman had adjourned the hearing overnight so he could consider all the evidence before him.

In acknowledging Goodwin's visible upset on what he called her 'Judgment Day', he also remarked: "Children of this age are as much victims as those that lost the money."

Prosecutor Edmund Gross told the court three of the charges related to Goodwin making false statements in relation to having lupus and one in respect of suffering from terminal cancer.

He said Goodwin also produced letters purporting to be from the London Lupus Centre in support of her claims for PIP.

"Between November 2015 and July 2018 she received overpayment on the grounds she had an illness or disability and needed help, which was untrue and false from the outset," he told the court.

"Health professionals she provided information about didn't exist and she wasn't a patient at the named hospitals. This is sophisticated fraud with detailed information being given about her needs which is false and produced in order to support this."

The court heard Goodwin's lies had 'spiralled out of control' after telling a friend and her former boss she had health problems.

Having been told she was therefore entitled to financial assistance, Goodwin applied for the state benefit.

"Whether it was self-esteem, attention-seeking or a manifestation of the depression that she has.....it spiralled," said Mr Alcock.

"It wasn't said for financial fraud but to gain support and sympathy. It was one untruth for sympathy which became an untruth for a different purpose and then spiralled over the two-year period."

Asked by Judge Philip Statman what the money was used for, Mr Alcock said: "It went on living. There's no luxury lifestyle, there's no fast car. It's not a fortune but it may have smoothed a difficult existence."

For her previous conviction for benefit fraud in 2012, she received six months' imprisonment suspended for a year, with an unpaid work requirement.

Goodwin sobbed and thanked Judge Statman at the end of the hearing.

He said her small monthly repayment showed 'an element of remorse' and warned her: "Don't you dare stop paying."

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