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6 Jan 2020

Pensioner jailed for benefit fraud

A "manipulative" man who said he was disabled and claimed almost £90,000 in benefits has been jailed after he was filmed living an active life.

Graham Branfield denied fraudulently claiming a little less than £90,000 in benefits, but a jury at Bristol Crown Court convicted him after deliberating for some 90 minutes on December 19.

While the 76-year-old claimed to be disabled, investigators who covertly filmed him discovered he was actually quite sprightly.

He was filmed delivering catalogues, shopping in a supermarket, and seen carrying bags of bird seed weighing between 20kg and 25kg.

Branfield, who lived in St Andrew's before moving to Knowle, represented himself in a trial this week at Bristol Crown Court.

A jury convicted him of fraudulently claiming £62,000 in Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and £25,000 in pension credit over 10 years.

Retired shopkeeper Brian Sheehan, who runs Fur and Feathers in Knowle, gave evidence during the trial. He said Branfield regularly purchased heavy bags of wild bird seed and pigeon corn from him two or three times a week.

He said the pensioner would park his car near the premises before carrying 20kg or 25kg bags to it without difficulty.

And former neighbour Helen Gillespie told the jury he was a regular dog walker. She also told the court Branfield would shop at Morrisons in Hartcliffe and carry items without difficulty.

Ultimately, Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) staff tailed Branfield as he went on one of his regular shopping runs, and captured evidence on camera.

Branfield, who had an interest in feeding wild birds, said he was suffering from a plethora of debilitating ailments for which he was medicated but he was still able to move around in pain.

He also admitted a small amount of catalogue work, for which he said he drove.

Judge James Patrick jailed Branfield for two years, to run extra to a four-year term he is serving for breaching a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

The judge said: "This was a simply breath-taking piece of dishonesty. You are an intelligent man and a man with some charm. But you are a manipulative man. Your application may have been honest from the beginning but you saw it as a blank cheque. You received very large sums of money indeed."

The jury heard interviews Branfield gave in early 2016 during an investigation into alleged benefit fraud. He said he had claimed DLA as he was suffering very badly and took pain medication.

Branfield said he suffered from a joint and muscle problem, renal problems and incontinence.

He said medication gave him the chance to be mobile but he was still in a lot of pain when moving and it had not got any better during the past 10 years.

He added a doctor had advised him Betterware catalogue work and feeding birds were giving him something to live for.

Branfield agreed he would leave home every day at 6am or 7am to feed pigeons and foxes unless he felt too unwell to go.

He maintained walking around did not stop him from suffering severe discomfort and he spent a lot of time indoors, lying on his bed, as he had difficulty coping.

Source with picture

3 Jan 2020

Bristol reports major successes in countering housing frauds

Fraud investigators at Bristol City Council have saved taxpayers more than £2million in the last six months, a report reveals.

The dedicated team’s work resulted in 19 council properties being recovered between April and October.

In one case that took 10 years ago to complete, a housing benefit cheat falsely claimed almost £20,000 after failing to declare owning a property.

Despite being convicted in 2012 and receiving a suspended jail sentence the following year, the culprit refused to abide by a confiscation order obtained by the council in court, which ordered the person to pay back the money plus £43,000 of local authority costs.

They served four months in prison as a result, and in 2019 the case finally came to a conclusion when a crown court judge appointed an enforcement receiver to force the sale of the property, with the council’s debt and costs to come from the proceeds.

The half-year counter-fraud report said the 19 council homes recovered amounted to nearly £1.8million, by far the largest portion of the savings to taxpayers.

A further £12,681 is recoverable to the council.

One council employee was sacked following a benefit fraud investigation with the DWP.

The 10-strong anti-corruption team, which investigates scams involving social housing tenancies, council tax reduction, direct payments and those carried out by council staff, also had successes in seven other cases from its tenancy fraud work, such as housing applications being cancelled or benefits savings.

Other examples, according to the report, included “a person removed from the housing register due to a fraudulent application, a person occupying a three-bedroom property but moved to a smaller property due to a fraudulent application and the removal of single person’s discount from a council tax account”.

It said a “key amnesty” was held in April and May with two housing providers where tenants committing fraud were offered the chance to voluntarily surrender their tenancy without recriminations.

As a result, two people handed back their properties, an anonymous tip-off led to a housing application being cancelled because a fraudster had failed to tell the council they had moved out of Bristol, and 23 cases are still under investigation.

Seven people who surrendered their keys during the amnesty period for “no apparent reason” were previously or currently subject to tenancy fraud investigation.

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Well done, Bristol!

2 Jan 2020

Council tenant in illegal sub-letting and right to buy frauds

A council tenant who had applied to purchase his rented home through the Right to Buy scheme has been convicted of illegally subletting it to his children.

Waltham Forest Council tenant, Uwe Werner, 55, applied to buy his Leytonstone property through the Right to Buy scheme, entitling him to a £108,000 discount.

However, the council’s Corporate Anti-Fraud Team established Werner was not living in the Sansom Road property but was in fact renting in Braintree, Essex.

Werner had been subletting the Leytonstone property to his two adult children over a three-and-a-half-year period between January 2015 and June 2018.

Werner was convicted at Snaresbrook Crown Court of illegally subletting the property and handed a two-year suspended prison sentence.

In mitigation Werner explained that his circumstances had changed in 2014 when his work led him to move to Braintree with his wife and youngest children, and so he made the improper decision to illegally sublet the Sansom Road property to his adult children, making a profit of £5226.00.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Pounder said: “You were originally a legitimate tenant, but your criminal liability is you took a decision which was the wrong decision.”

Judge Pounder also imposed an Unlawful Profit Order for the full amount by which he profited from subletting his council property.

Werner must now vacate the address or the council will instigate civil proceedings to terminate the tenancy.

A council spokesperson said: “Waltham Forest Council is committed to fighting corruption and dishonesty. Combatting tenancy fraud is high on our agenda as we work to ensure that our properties are made available for those who have a genuine need for them.

“We hope this case sends a clear message – we will fully investigate any suspected cases of tenancy fraud and those found guilty may be required to vacate their homes as Mr Werner will now have to.

“This property will now be used to provide a decent roof over the head of a new family, giving them the security and stability they need to make the most of their life chances in Waltham Forest.”

Source

30 Dec 2019

Illegal subletting finally resolved

A council house that was illegally sublet has been taken back by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council following a court ruling.

The council received allegations about the property in Hatfield in June 2017 and began to investigate, before starting possession proceedings in April 2018.

The tenant listed at the property, Mr Steane, was found to not spend any nights there, while another person was living there and paying him rent.

Mr Steane was found to have breached his tenancy in subletting the house illegally, and the court made an order allowing the council to take back possession of the property, as well as ordering Mr Steane to pay back the rent arrears he had accumulated.

The council's corporate director Simone Russell said: "With his actions Mr Steane deliberately defrauded the council. We take a hard line with people who illegally sublet and use the system for their own gain."

Source

28 Dec 2019

Benefit cheat exaggerated incapacity

Lying Dominic Lappin pocketed £75,683 of taxpayer money on the basis he was too disabled to work - while secretly employed as a delivery driver.

Lappin claimed a range of benefits, including Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments, which he was not entitled to.

A court heard he did have a bad back but he had over-egged his symptoms, claiming he was in constant discomfort and could only walk 10 to 20 yards very slowly and had to stop due to pain.

However, since 2013, he had been working as a delivery driver, driving for up to an hour at a time and being seen to walk 100 metres and climb stairs.

Now the 49-year-old, from Walker, Newcastle, caught after an anonymous tip off, has narrowly avoided going to prison after admitting benefit fraud at Newcastle Crown Court.

Recorder Abdul Iqbal QC told him: 'Over a period of almost six years, you claimed various benefits to which you were not entitled and you received them because you told lies to the DWP and the local authority.

'You received PIP, Housing Benefit, Employment Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance, all on the basis you said you were not working, had no income or that you were incapacitated. You were telling lies. You had an income from work you were failing to declare and you exaggerated your symptoms as a result of your incapacity.

'Hard-pressed public resources were diverted to you when they could have been used elsewhere, for deserving candidates and other public service. The taxpayer has borne the burden for all of that and it's certainly not a victimless crime.'

Prosecutor Stuart Graham said Lappin had made various claims about the state of his health, claiming he couldn't walk far without help, that he needed help rising from his seat, needed help going to the toilet and going up and down stairs and that he felt drowsy and uncoordinated due to his medication.

Mr Graham told the court: 'He was supposed to inform the department of any change in circumstances or work he undertook. The evidence shows he had been working for Elite Powder Coatings from January 2013 as a delivery driver. He drove for up to an hour at a time, clearly in contradiction to the statement he put forward.

'The company director saw him walk 100 metres and climb stairs without any physical distress and he never saw him use a stick or fall down. He never saw him appear nervous, anxious or drowsy or be unable to carry out his duties.'

Recorder Iqbal said Lappin had claimed to have taken up work to set an example to his children but he warned: 'I hope you are ashamed of yourself, standing in the dock, no doubt your children reading in the local newspaper that their father has been convicted of benefit fraud.'

The judge said he had just been persuaded not to lock him up as it would cost more public money to look after him in jail and it would jeopardise his job and his ability to pay the money back and may have an adverse effect on his children.

He was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years with 250 hours of unpaid work.

Brian Hegarty, defending, said: 'The defendant undoubtedly suffered a serious back injury for which he continues to receive treatment to this day. He suffered that in around 2009 while working as a JCB driver. He claimed for benefits and was entitled to then because of his incapacity. The charge is because his condition improved and he failed to inform the agencies.'

He added that the condition was variable and that he continues to use morphine-based pain relief as required and had to take time off work while employed as a part-time delivery driver due to it.

Mr Hegarty said it is possible Lappin would have been entitled to some benefits at a reduced level and was under financial pressure and started working to prove his worth to his family and set an example to his children.

He said he continues to work and rents his home, telling the court: 'He clearly made a terrible mistake.'

The court heard Lappin is paying back his ill-gotten gains at £340 a month and has so far paid back around £4,500.

Source with picture

21 Dec 2019

Universal credit manager stole claimants' payments

A woman who assessed people for universal credit has been sentenced for making fake claims and cheating people out of their cash. (h/t Dave)

Rebecca Hanway, 30, of Wigan, admitted defrauding the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of more than £18,000.

The claims team manager submitted two fraudulent applications and hijacked five claims to steal money, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.

She was sentenced to 16 months in jail, suspended for two years.

Hanway admitted nine counts of fraud by abuse of position at Bolton Crown Court on Wednesday and was also ordered to carry out 200 hours' unpaid work and attend 20 days of rehabilitation activity.

The CPS fraud unit said Hanway, who worked at a universal credit service centre in Wigan, misrepresented her own circumstances on two applications and stole five additional identities before submitting a further five fraudulent claims in their names.

She used her own bank account details to receive the universal credit advance payments and she also diverted advance payments from three other claims into her bank between September 2018 to April 2019.

She accessed the DWP computer system and lied about her own circumstances, the CPS added.

Justine McVitie, of the CPS, said Hanway was "a serial fraudster who abused her position of trust in a government department to cheat the public purse out of thousands of pounds".

She added: "She would have been aware of the many genuine claimants of this benefit who genuinely need the help and support of the state to survive. Yet, despite earning an income of her own, she cheated and lied her way to claiming money she had no entitlement to."

Source

20 Dec 2019

Thee role of fake singletons in total benefit fraud

Phantom singletons are set to cost taxpayers more than £10 million-per-week in overpayments, shock figures show.

Ghost claims will balloon to an estimated £580 million within two years for couples who claim to be living apart – but have set up with a partner.

But the bogus singles were last year paid £95 million in Universal Credit, £55 million in housing benefit and £6 million in Jobseeker’s Allowance.

There were also payments for £25 million in Employment and Support Allowance and a further £18 million in Pension Credit, government figures show.

Couples who claim to live in separate homes, often pretending their relationship has broken down, can rake in thousands of pounds in fraudulent payments.

It is due to cost taxpayers £350 million this year.

Duncan Simpson, research director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “These highlight absurdities in the welfare system. Some people will always be looking good to game the system, and that is made far easier when the referee makes the rules so unnecessarily complex. The government needs to prevent cheating but they can make that far easier by simplifying the benefits bill.”

Recent examples of this fraud that have come to court include mum-of-two Debbie Bowler.

She was paid £30,000 in benefits but was found to have flown off on holiday with the children’s dad for a month-long trip in Australia. Bowler, 41, of Colne, Lancs, had told the authorities that she lived alone but later admitted her partner stayed in the home three nights a week, although they slept apart. She admitted fraud and was ordered to do community service and pay back the cash.

Diana Young, 59, fraudulently claimed almost £30,000 in benefits by saying she lived alone in a home in Hull. However, she was unwittingly unmasked herself when she and her partner put in a joint application for tax credits. She admitted fraud and was given a suspended jail sentence.

Many of the bogus payouts are believed to start life as genuine claims, but then as a person’s personal circumstances change and a partner moves in, they fail to notify the authorities.

The most recent estimates suggest that £2.3billion in benefits was fraudulently claimed in the last year – more than £6million every day.

On top of this another £1.8billion was paid out in error – meaning fraud and error accounted for £4.1billion of last year’s total £184billion benefit bill.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Nearly 97 per cent of benefits are paid correctly so fraud and error is low. We work hard to sort out fraud and error overpayments, recovering more than a billion pounds last year.”

Source

19 Dec 2019

The importance of housing fraud

CIPFA writes

Housing is a fundamental service that UK local authorities have a responsibility to provide.

Councils across the UK offer social housing options for local people based on a variety of factors, ranging from financial strains related to unemployment to above-average rents in urban areas.

For the most vulnerable in society, this public service can be a lifesaver in the most literal sense.

Unfortunately, as with all public services, the housing sector is not immune to fraud and other financial crimes. People can exploit the public housing system, depriving councils of funding by illegitimately participating in state programmes, making those in need worse off.

Fortunately, counter-fraud efforts in council housing are proving effective. The latest iteration of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accounting (CIPFA)’s Fraud and Corruption Tracker (CFaCT) shows that the number of fraudulent cases is decreasing – UK local authorities detected and/or prevented 3,632 instances of housing fraud in 2018/19, a decline of roughly 20% from the previous year and the second year of decline since 2016/17.

Of course all this shows is that detection is decreasing. It may not reflect the underlying level of fraud.

Over the past year, they prevented 652 and 826 cases of Right to Buy and illegal sublet frauds respectively. Furthermore, housing fraud represented 54% of the total value of fraud prevented by local authorities in 2018/19, while making up only 5% of the total estimated number of fraud cases.

While the numbers of Right to Buy and illegal sublet fraud cases declined, ‘other’ types of housing fraud, which includes succession and false applications, held steady at approximately 2,150 cases.

It’s worth noting that the way authorities record the income lost from housing fraud can vary. They may include the cost of putting up a family in a bed and breakfast for several months or they may include the cost of replacing a property entirely.

However, although making these calculations is certainly challenging, they provide a helpful snapshot of local authorities’ effectiveness at tackling this problem.

In recent years, local authorities have stepped up their counter-fraud work in social housing. This has had a big impact, given the low rates of turnover in tenancies in the current social housing stock.

The screening of Right to Buy applications by councils protects valuable housing stock from being sold at a discount to ineligible individuals. This measure, paired with tenancy audits and proactive exercises to detect illegal subletting and unused social housing, is tackling abuse in the sector.

By recovering properties from ineligible tenants, councils can then reallocate housing to those in legitimate need. These controls, along with more stringent checks on all applications, are preventing fraud in the housing stock and reducing the overall level of housing fraud.

It’s a strategy that CIPFA thinks has worked very well – and the figures tell us that councils’ counter-fraud strategies for housing are shifting trends in the right direction.

At CIPFA, we believe our role is to help councils put in place the proper preventative measures, controls, training and governance structures to stop fraud from happening at all. There’s still much to be done across all counter-fraud areas, but this year’s CFaCT report gives us a snapshot of the real progress that has been made on council housing counter-fraud efforts.

Source

20 Nov 2019

Light sentence for blatant big benefit fraud

A benefit cheat continued collecting her dead mother’s pension for nearly eight years in a £77,000 fraud, a court heard. (h/t Dave)

Hilary Wilson, 46, a school clerical assistant from Brixton, did not report the death, which happened during a visit to Jamaica and was not registered in the UK.

Inner London crown court heard that Wilson’s mother had her state pension paid into a joint account that she held with her daughter.

The mother of two pleaded guilty to defrauding the Department for Work and Pensions between August 10, 2009 and February 12, 2017. The fraud was exposed in a review of her finances.

Sam Barker, prosecuting, told the court: “It is £77,000 she is not entitled to. She dishonestly received a benefit she was never entitled to.”

Wilson’s lawyer said she was the only breadwinner in the household after her husband died. The court was told she has a daughter, 24, and a son, 10, who both have health problems.

Of course they have.

Judge Ian Darling told Wilson: “You have been very dishonest, but in circumstances that mitigate that dishonesty.”

Wilson was sentenced to 15 months in prison, ­suspended for two years and was ordered to complete 120 hours of community service.

She must also complete 15 days of rehabilitation and the DWP will make deductions from benefits she receives for herself rather than pursue full confiscation.

Source with picture

18 Nov 2019

Man sentenced for benefit fraud and obtaining a false passport

A man who cheated the state out of thousands of pounds in benefits and fraudulently obtained a passport has been sentenced. (h/t Dave)

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Mohammed Ahmed, 39, claimed £6,762 of Universal Credit to which he was not entitled between February 2018 to January 2019.

Investigations into this led the authorities to uncover other frauds committed by Ahmed.

Ahmed, formerly known as Shirajul Hoque, entered the UK from Bangladesh as a Bangladeshi national born in 1969. Ahmed does not qualify for British citizenship and has never made an application for entry clearance to the UK.

In 2003, he made an application for a passport, under the name of Shirajul Hoque, and provided an old British blue passport as identification. That old passport turned out to be a forgery.

In 2008, he applied for another passport with a change of name deed poll document that changed his name from Shirajul Hoque to Mohammed Shiraj Ahmed. He was issued with another passport.

As a result of the defendant’s application to the Department for Work and Pensions between 6 March 2018 and 7 January 2019, Universal Credit payments amounting to £6,762.81 were paid into his bank account.

In January 2019, Department of Work and Pensions officials searched Ahmed’s house in Station Road, Holmes Chapel, and found the deed poll document and one of the passports.

He was arrested on 15 January 2019. He pleaded guilty to possession of a false identity document with intent and dishonest representation for obtaining benefit.

The Crown Prosecution Service allowed two other charges, of possession of a false identity document with intent and making an untrue statement for the purpose of obtaining a passport to lie on file.

On 7 November 2019 at Chester Crown Court, Ahmed was sentenced to 18 months in prison suspended for two years, and he must surrender his false passport. The decision on whether or not he should be deported has been passed to the Home Office.

Source