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27 Sep 2019

Mothers who pretended to be single get suspended sentences

A mother of three who scrounged over £50,000 in state handouts by claiming she lived on her own insisted she carried on claiming because her live-in boyfriend would disappear for 'days at a time' with his friends. Marie Hayes, 36, had illegally pocketed welfare payments for more than three years by falsely telling officials she was a single parent - when in fact long term partner John Gavigan was living with her at their family home.

She was given six months in prison suspended for 12 months, and ordered to complete 220 hours of community service.

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And a benefit cheat who lied about being single so she could pocket nearly £30,000 from the state has narrowly avoided jail. Mum-of-three Diana Young, 59, lied about not being in a relationship for four years and eight months to claim employment support allowance. But she came unstuck after she and her partner made a claim for joint tax credits, where they described themselves as a couple on the form!

Young was sentenced to 22 weeks imprisonment suspended for 12 months. She will also be under curfew from midday to midnight which will run for four weeks.

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So they can carry on living their lives.

64 Birmingham homes recovered in fraud crackdown

Dozens of Birmingham homes have been recovered and hundreds of housing applications cancelled due to fraud, a report has revealed.

It comes on the back of a warning the city council faces a £4m black hole by the end of the year if the homelessness crisis continues and the authority has to keep forking out to put families up in bed and breakfasts. In 2018/19 the council's corporate fraud team recovered 64 homes worth an estimated £6m in housing stock.

They also cancelled 212 housing applications prior to letting and stopped two Right to Buy applications.

The council's annual fraud report stated that homes were recovered when they were 'not being used as intended' such as when a false application had been made or the property had been illegally sub-let.

Council auditor Neil Farquharson said: "There are obvious social benefits in ensuring that only those with the greatest need are allocated social housing, but there is also a real financial saving from preventing and/or stopping social housing fraud, particularly in respect of providing temporary accommodation, and losing valuable housing stock through fraudulent Right to Buy applications."

The corporate fraud team also investigates fraud relating to its council tax reduction scheme and council tax exemptions. They made £559,534 worth of adjustments to council tax last year. Additionally they identified £858,202 worth of Housing Benefit overpayments.

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25 Sep 2019

Barrister claimed council tax support

A barrister who said she needed help paying council tax for 17 months earned nearly £40,000 in that time.

Asma 'Sky' Bibi has been hit with a 7pm to 7am curfew after being found guilty of failing to notify Manchester council of a change in her financial circumstances.

Miss Bibi, from Ancoats, claimed council tax support over a 17-month period, despite earning almost £40,000 in that time.

Miss Bibi was initially found guilty in December 2018 following a trial at Warrington Magistrates' Court. She was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £1,020 costs. She later appealed against both the sentence and conviction.

Last Friday at Chester Crown Court, that appeal was dismissed and a judge increased her sentence, handing her a 12-month community order and a 28 day curfew with £2,585 costs.

In a statement, Manchester council said:
A practising barrister was convicted on Friday, September 13, of failing to notify the council of a change in her financial circumstances. 
Miss Asma 'Sky' Bibi was charged with an allegation that between April 13, 2015 and September 6, 2016, whilst in receipt of council tax support, as part of the council tax reduction scheme and for the purpose of obtaining a reduction in council tax, she failed to declare or provide any notification of a change in her circumstances, namely that she had undertaken gainful employment and had undeclared income in the sum of almost £40,000, knowing that the change in those circumstances would affect her entitlement to a reduction or the amount of reduction under that scheme. 
Miss Bibi was in receipt of council tax support on the basis that she was in receipt of benefits and was not working or in receipt of any other income and which resulted in an over payment of that council tax reduction during that period of £1,105.24.
Ms Bibi's profile on the Juriosity website says she was called to the bar in November 2007 and describes her as self-employed.

When contacted by the Manchester Evening News the Bar Standards Board, which regulates barristers, declined to confirm if it was looking into Miss Bibi's case.

A spokesman said: "The BSB does not comment as to whether or not it has received any information about potential misconduct by a barrister. Such matters are dealt with in accordance with the procedures set out in detail on our website. These procedures are usually conducted confidentially unless they result in a listing for a disciplinary tribunal hearing. Such listings are published on the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service website and hearings are held in public."

The Manchester Evening News has attempted to contact Miss Bibi.

20 Sep 2019

Benefit cheat will have to sell house

A businessman who pocketed thousands of pounds in state handouts while working is currently paying back his ill-gotten gains at a rate which will take him more than 100 years to clear.

Charles Sludden, 63, continued claiming jobseekers allowance and employment support allowance despite doing sub-contracting work for 10 companies, a court heard.

Sludden, from Low Fell, Gateshead, who has a house which is worth more than £500,000, pocketed £33,292 he was not entitled to in a dishonest claim spanning more than four years.

He was rumbled after an anonymous tip-off and pleaded guilty to three benefit fraud charges.

Newcastle Crown Court heard he is currently paying back the money at just £25 a month, although he faces a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing at which he is likely to be ordered to pay back the full amount from his assets.

Jessica Slaughter, prosecuting, said: "The Crown say the defendant failed to disclose to the DWP earnings that he was receiving.

"When claiming jobseekers allowance, the defendant did so on the basis neither he nor his partner had any form of work income, capital or savings.

"When claiming employment support allowance he did so on the grounds of ill health, saying he was incapable of work and that he had no income, capital or savings. Anonymous information was received to suggest he had been working for his own company on a self-employed basis from his home address and suggesting he had undeclared assets."

The court heard an investigation showed he had been working for 10 different companies.

Miss Slaughter told the court: "When interviewed, he reluctantly admitted he had not told the DWP he had been earning money through self-employed sub contracting work."

She added: "The house he lives in is said to be worth £575,000 and there is a timetable to be set in relation to proceeds of crime."

Sludden has so far paid back £100 of the money, the court heard.

He admitted three benefit fraud charges between March 2013 and May 2017 and was sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended for two years with 200 hours unpaid work, a four month night-time curfew and a community order.

Ms Recorder Karaiskos told him: "The offences came to light because of an anonymous tip-off then an investigation ensued which revealed you had been working but failed to disclose that information to the relevant department.

"You are a man of previous good character and you were at one point a successful businessman and fell into financial difficulties.

"You were entitled to claim benefits at the beginning but continued to claim them unlawfully and dishonestly. I'm told you are remorseful and ashamed and so you should be. What example are you setting to your daughters who are now at university?

"The money was not spent on any lavish lifestyle but to pay the bills. You are now currently employed in two different jobs and repaying at £25 a month, it's going to take years to repay that."

Penny Hall, defending, said: "Before these offences, he was a businessman and, it seems, a rather successful businessman and a law-abiding man.

"What led to the offending was difficulties with work. He had believed he had secured a contract which was a significant contract, for which he had spent money to facilitate that contract and obtained credit in order to prepare for that contract.

"It transpired, in fact, the person he had spoken with didn't have the authority to agree that contract so when he invoiced the company he was informed the contract was not agreed and didn't actually exist.

"As a result of that, he lost future work and lost money. He had obtained credit as a result and fell into financial difficulties. That, it seems, led to a downward spiral in his business."

Miss Hall said Sludden had started claiming benefits legitimately at first due to his lack of income.

She added that the contracts he went on to secure while claiming benefits were "minimal" and he was unsure when or if he would get paid from them. The nature of his business was not revealed in court.

Miss Hall told the court: "He accepts he didn't notify the department of that.

"Despite the reference in the pre-sentence report of his main concern being for him, he is someone who is remorseful for his actions and clearly appreciates the effect this type of offending has on the wider community and benefits system. He is ashamed and embarrassed he is before this court.

"He is now employed and is trying to pay the money back to the department, at £25 a month from his income, and he has put his house up for sale."

Source

19 Sep 2019

Wolverhampton stops £700k of fraud in 4 months

Nine cases of tenancy fraud, worth around £695,000, were stopped by Wolverhampton Council’s counter-fraud team in four months.

Illegal sub-lettings of properties were uncovered along with fraudulent right to buy applications and social housing application fraud.

And fraud where the owner tries to pass on the property to a relative, or fails to hand over the keys, was also detected.

The team tackled the fraud between April and July this year, a report revealed.

A total of 150 instances of suspected fraud were investigated by the team – with council bosses promising to take action to recover all stolen money as part of a "zero-tolerance" policy.

It comes after the council was chosen to pilot a HMRC scheme to crack down on the crime.

The report to the council’s Audit and Risk Committee said: “The counter-fraud team is continuing to develop and lead in raising fraud awareness across the council and in promoting an anti-fraud culture. The team carries out investigations into areas of suspected or reported fraudulent activity.

“It also organises a series of council wide pro-active fraud activities, including the targeted testing of areas open to the potential of fraudulent activity.

"The council was selected by the Cabinet Office as one of only 10 local authorities to take part in a pilot National Fraud Initiative (NFI) exercise where HMRC data has been matched to the council’s data for the first time.

“HMRC hold information about household composition, household earnings and property ownership. A sample of matches were investigated with the majority relating to tenancy issues.

“The counter-fraud team has provided feedback to the Cabinet Office which has been used to help refine the matches and to ensure the maximum impact is achieved from the exercise.”

A spokesman for Wolverhampton Council said: “The city of Wolverhampton Council operates a zero-tolerance policy on fraud and will not hesitate to take action as appropriate. We are pleased to be a key partner in this National Fraud Initiative data matching exercise because, ultimately, fraud against the council is fraud against the hard-working taxpayers of Wolverhampton.”

They added that the figures quoted in the report are notional figures provided by the Cabinet Office who calculate the full cost of the loss of each property to the public.

A total of 66 frontline staff have since been trained to highlight anything suspicious.

A tenancy fraud e-learning course will be distributed to all employees.

An estimated £2.1 billion is lost each year across the country due to fraud.

Source

This result blows that £2.1bn out of the water. It's £2m in a year for just one local authority, and mostly for tenancy issues.

17 Sep 2019

No jail for £64k fat smoking benefit cheat mother

A benefit cheat who shamelessly fiddled nearly £64,000 from taxpayers for more than three years has been spared prison - because she has children.

Her partner had gambling debts at the time and she kept quiet that they had got back together after a separation and that he was working, a court heard.

Kelly Ledger, 40, of Scunthorpe, admitted three offences of failing to disclose that she was living with her partner between July 2014 and November 2017.

Nigel Clive, prosecuting, told Grimsby Crown Court that Ledger originally lived with her partner but there was a short separation and she moved home. She began claiming benefit as a single parent with children but the couple got back together.

She told the authorities nothing of this and carried on claiming, even though he was working, and did not notify a change of circumstances for about three years.

"The claim was not fraudulent from the outset," said Mr Clive.

Richard Lunn, mitigating, said the money obtained was to pay debts and household bills and it did not mean that Ledger was living a lavish lifestyle.


"She has defrauded the taxpayers of this country over a significant period of time," said Mr Lunn. "It was a long period of deception. She has put a proposal before the court of how this can be repaid. She doesn't seek to excuse her actions."

Her partner had gambling debts at the time but he had since given up this.

Mr Lunn said Ledger had children and a prison sentence would affect her family as she was the primary carer.

Judge John Thackray QC told the court: "This is much-needed public money."

But he said that a prison sentence would have a "catastrophic effect" on Ledger's children, particularly her youngest child.

"I have wrestled with this decision," said Judge Thackray. "It has been a very close thing."

Ledger was given an eight-month suspended prison sentence, 150 hours' unpaid work and 15 days' rehabilitation.

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12 Sep 2019

Benefit fraud mum had £70k in five bank accounts

A mother of three from Bradford who had £70,000 tucked away in five bank accounts has been sentenced to a community order for benefit fraud.

Della Lister, 31, from Eccleshill, pleaded guilty to dishonestly claiming £22,897 in Income Support, Council Tax Reduction and Housing Benefit by failing to disclose that she had capital over the prescribed limits.

Bradford Crown Court heard this week that Lister, who was of previous good character, had repaid all the money.

David Gordon, prosecuting, said she stated that she had just £200 in the bank when she had £70,442.

In mitigation, the court heard that she had inherited the bulk of the money following the tragic death of her mother when she was only a child.

Lister had worked in a care home but left to care for her grandmother, who had since passed away.

She did not live a lavish lifestyle, the court heard.

She was also very remorseful, the court was told.

The Recorder of Bradford, Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC, sentenced Lister to a 12-month community order with 250 hours of unpaid work, and a rehabilitation activity requirement.

She must pay £525 court costs.

He said it was a “blatant fraud.”

Lister knew she had money tucked away in the bank, the court was told.

But she was an impeccable mother who would not trouble the courts again, the judge added.

Source

10 Sep 2019

Council tax fraud and illegal sub-letting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source

8 Sep 2019

Jail for social care payments fraud

A fraudster has been sentenced for claiming over £37,000 from his deceased mother.

Ulisses Spencer de Souza Montiero, from Haringey, has been sentenced to 30 months in jail for social care fraud by continuing to receive direct payments for his mother’s care but failing to declare that she had passed away in September 2014.

He continued to collect the payments of his mother Mrs Spencer, whom he resided with, until February 2016 – totalling to an overpayment of £37,549.28.

Haringey’s Corporate Fraud team became aware of the situation when working with social workers to review the direct payments sent to Mrs Spencer.

Mr Montiero sought to mislead the council by saying his mother was alive and on holiday in Portugal with his sister, even though the mother had been deceased for around 17 months.

Councillor Joseph Ejiofor, leader of Haringey Council, said: “Social care payments are a vital support for some of our most vulnerable residents – those who commit fraud are taking vital funds away from people who need them most. Our officers are working tirelessly to ensure every penny in this borough is being spent properly.”

During an unannounced home visit to Mr Montiero, a neighbour advised the Corporate Fraud team that they believed Mrs Spencer had passed away.

The fraudster appeared at the Old Bailey on August 30, after being convicted at an earlier trial at Highbury Magistrates Court in July 2019.

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5 Sep 2019

Benefits cheat pretended to be her sister, who was in prison

A “brazen” benefits cheat with a history of dishonesty claimed more than £7,000 by posing as her sister who was actually in prison.

Claire Cross impersonated her sister Debbie Harris and made false claims for employment and support allowance, personal independence payment, and housingbenefit over a six-month period.

Speaking at Cardiff Crown Court prosecutor Thomas Stanway said: “She claimed benefits to which she was not entitled in her sister’s name.” The court heard she was wrongly paid £7,050.40 between October 2016 and April 2017.

Prosecutors said Ms Harris was claiming benefits when she was remanded in custody at HM Eastwood Park Prison in September 2016.

She was given a prison sentence the following month and Cross contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to make a false claim in her sister’s name.

The court heard the defendant impersonated her sister and told the agency she had only been in custody for a week. The claim was reinstated based on that false information. Mr Stanway said the claims for all three benefits were fraudulent from the outset.

She said she did it to pay off her sister’s drug debt as people were knocking on her door and would not leave her alone. She said she could not afford to pay them.

The defendant said she bought clothes, including tracksuits and trainers, for her sister while she was in prison.

Prosecutors said she made full admissions and accepted she should not have done it. The court heard she had 58 previous offences on her record, mostly for dishonesty, including previous fraud offences.

Cross, 45, admitted three counts of fraud by false representation.

David Singh, defending, accepted she booked flights to Malaga but said they were for a relative’s funeral and not a holiday.

He suggested she had shown regret and remorse through her admissions and guilty pleas and handed the judge letters from the defendant and her sister.

Judge Nicola Jones said: “This was not just a one-off. There was repeated contact with the relevant agencies. You were brazen in your attitude.”

Cross was given an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for 22 months, and ordered to complete 15 sessions of a rehabilitation activity.

The judge said she would have made an order for compensation for the full amount if sufficient funds had been available.

She noted Cross was receiving benefits and would not realistically be able to make the payments within a reasonable time frame.

The defendant was ordered to pay £560 in compensation along with £340 towards prosecution costs and a £140 victim surcharge.

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