16 Oct 2018

Sentencing for benefit fraud deferred

A woman has apologised after illegally claiming thousands of pounds in benefits.

Razean Begum Afsar, from Middlesbrough, failed to tell the Department of Works and Pensions that she had more savings than was allowed.

Now the 55-year-old has been brought before Teesside magistrates where she admitted five charges.

But after learning there was a proceeds of crime element to the case the hearing was adjourned to a later date at Teesside Crown Court.

Afsar pleaded guilty to committing fraud in that between February 8, 2013 and April 24, 2013 at Middlesbrough she failed to disclose to the Department for Work and Pensions that she had capital in excess of the permitted limits, intending to make a gain of £1,103.70 in Income Support.

She also admitted that on April 25, 2013 at Middlesbrough she committed fraud by dishonestly making a false representation, in that she had no capital in excess of the permitted limits, intending to make a gain of £2007.60 in Employment Support Allowance.

Further charges of dishonestly making a false statement covering claiming Employment Support Allowance in 2013, Job Seekers Allowance in June 2015 and Income Support in 2015 while having the excess capital were also admitted.

Amy Levitt, defending, told the hearing her client was sorry for what had happened.

She said: “She does wish to express her deep remorse and regret. She is extremely apologetic for her actions.”

Afsar was granted unconditional bail until sentencing at Teesside Crown Court.

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15 Oct 2018

"Disabled" pensioner walked her dog 4 times a day

A 72-year-old benefits cheat who falsely claimed more than £22,400 was caught after being spotted walking her dog up to four times a day.

Patricia Kowalewski claimed disability living allowance between March 24 2010 and September 27 2016, stating she wasn’t able to carry out certain everyday tasks.

But the Department of Work and Pensions received an anonymous tip-off before investigators carried out surveillance.

Fiscal depute Anna Chisholm said: “She claimed that her needs were greater than they actually were. This first came to light when an anonymous allegation came to the DWP as to the accused’s ability to walk the dog… up to four times a day.”

Investigators watched Kowalewski on eight occasions also spotting her walking with no aid, at a “normal pace”, opening and closing garage doors with no difficulty and picking up shopping from her car.

Ms Chisholm said Kowalewski had claimed a total of £44,929.50 over the same period but accepted she “would have been entitled to some of the disability allowance”.

Kowalewski appeared at Aberdeen Sheriff Court for sentencing having previously pled guilty.

Defence agent Gregor Kelly said: “It’s a matter of great shame to her that she finds herself facing a criminal process so late in life.”

He said Kowalewski suffered from back problems and chronic pain and had good days and bad days, adding: “It could be argued it’s a partial fraud.” He said she had been paying money back at £200 per month.

Sheriff Graham Buchanan said: “Plainly this is a serious offence because of the amount of money which you obtained from the state to which you were not entitled.”

He ordered Kowalewski, from Kingswells, to carry out 270 hours of unpaid work.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Only a small minority of benefit claimants are dishonest, but cases like these show how we are catching the minority who cheat the system and divert taxpayers’ money from those who need it. We are determined to catch those we suspect of fraudulently claiming benefits by following up on tip-offs, undertaking surveillance and working with local councils.”

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12 Oct 2018

High-living couple evaded tax and claimed benefits

A Liverpool couple who dodged tax and swindled benefits to fund a luxury lifestyle have been ordered to repay £355,000.

Bernard Knutsen, 69, and his wife Maureen, 63, ran Chaplin's bar on Lodge Lane and a car garage in the city.

Pictures reveal wads of cash found at their home that they used to fund their expensive tastes and jet-settling high-life.

The couple’s tax-dodging scheme also netted them

  • Trips to the UAE and USA in 2010 followed by a dream trip to the Far East taking in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and India in March 2011.
  • In November 2011, they jetted off to South Africa, followed by more trips to the USA in 2013 and then a holiday to Argentina, The Falklands and Antarctica in 2014 – all totalling £21,000
  • A brand new £24,000 kitchen at their Fell Street Home.
The couple were jailed for a total of seven years for tax and benefit fraud following a joint investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Department for Work and Pensions and Liverpool City Council.

They now face losing their family home and pub – as well as expensive jewellery and tens of thousands of pounds in savings.

At a confiscation hearing led by HMRC at Liverpool Crown Court on October 4, Bernard Knutsen was ordered to repay £323,195 within three months or spend another three years behind bars.

The Knutsen's had thousands of pounds stashed away along with luxury watches and jewelry
£76,459 of this will be paid as compensation to the Department for Work and Pensions. Maureen Knutsen must repay £32,929 within three months or face another year in prison.

Debbie Porter, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “The Knutsens lived a jet-set lifestyle paid for by a criminal income from cheating every honest tax payer. The Knutsens lost their liberty because of their greed and now face more time behind bars. HMRC will continue to pursue criminals after conviction to seize their ill-gotten assets.”

They ran Chaplin’s Bar on Lodge Lane and a car repair garage on Hill Street, but failed to pay any VAT, National Insurance or Income Tax while also fraudulently claiming benefits.

A search of their home uncovered a wealth of jewellery, including Rolex watches and Royal Mint gold sovereign coins, as well as bundles of cash totalling almost £40,000 stashed in handbags.

Investigators also found that the couple had a £50,000 endowment policy, and had placed £20,000 into the bank accounts of their grandchildren.

The couple’s daughter Kelly Knutsen, 39, who was sentenced to 21 months suspended for two years for her involvement in the fraud, has been ordered to repay £5,010 within 28 days or face three months in jail.

Kelly Knutsen received unexplained money from both businesses into her bank account and owned a £4,000 Rolex watch.

She also claimed benefit to cover her rent but failed to declare a second property she owned and rented out.

The full £5,010 will be paid to Liverpool City Council as compensation.


11 Oct 2018

Woman in £140k benefit fraud

A woman found guilty of one of Northern Ireland’s largest ever benefit frauds was overpaid more than £140,000, a court heard.

Pauline Donaghy from North Belfast will be sentenced next week after admitting to getting the approximately £144,000 in Housing Benefit and Income Support.

Belfast Crown Court heard that while the 42-year-old mother of three is currently paying back £25 a week, “it would take 100 years to repay the money, not including any interest”.

After listening to submissions from both the Crown and defence, Judge RoseAnn McCormick QC branded the case and sentencing process as “complex and compelling” and said she would pass sentence next Tuesday.

Prior to adjourning sentencing, Judge McCormick heard that Donaghy pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to declare a change of circumstances. The 42-year old admitted obtaining Housing Benefit between February 2009 and August 2015 and failing to notify the Social Security Agency that she was living with her partner, and of obtaining Income Support between January 2009 and June 2015 in the same circumstances.

Crown barrister Kate McKay said Donaghy obtained an overpayment of just over £22,340 in Housing Benefit and an overpayment of around £122,630 in Income Support which she was not entitled to, whilst living with her partner.

The prosecutor said Donaghy’s offending started to emerge when an investigation was launched by the Department of Social Development regarding Housing Benefit on a house rented by Donaghy as a private tenant.

The court heard Donaghy’s partner was named as the landlord of the property, but that investigations revealed they were living together in the house “as husband and wife”. The court also heard that Donaghy’s partner had been in full time employment from 2000 until the detection in 2015.

When Donaghy was interviewed in August 2015, she admitted she had signed the relevant benefit claim forms, but had failed to notify of a change of circumstances.

Ms McKay said Donaghy initially made the case that her partner was just her landlord, and that he worked in England frequently. She also claimed he had lived in the house before she moved in, that he called in to check the property sometimes, that he never stayed over, and she denied they were in a relationship.

The prosecutor said that when evidence was put to Donaghy that this man was living at the property - including medical and employment records - she admitted they lived together and he was the father of her three children.

Telling the judge she believed the custody threshold had been met, Ms McKay said Donaghy’s offending “went on for a considerable period of time”, and revealed the overpayment was “one of the largest there has been in this jurisdiction”.

Ms McKay added that she accepted the money was not used to fund a lavish lifestyle, and that Donaghy came before the court with a clear criminal record.

Defence barrister Mark Farrell said that whilst Donaghy may have been reluctant at first to admit what she did during interview, “full admissions” were made.

The barrister said Donaghy had has had the case “hanging over her head like the Sword of Damocles” for over three years, which has heightened the depression and anxiety she already suffers from.

Mr Farrell accepted the amount of overpayment was a “significant amount of money”, telling Judge McCormick his client is voluntarily paying back £25 from her benefits. He said: “This amounts to £100 a month, so it will take 100 years to repay all this money, not including any interest. There is no extravagant living or lifestyle here, no fancy cars of foreign holidays.” Instead, Mr Farrell said Donaghy used the money for household bills and day to day living.

Mr Farrell also spoke of Donaghy’s “remorse, contrition and regret”, adding that she may have been eligible for certain benefits had she informed the SSA of her change in circumstances.

He urged the Judge to only consider custody “as a last resort” and said other alternatives such as a Probation Order would be more appropriate.

Judge McCormick told Donaghy she will be sentenced next Tuesday.


P.S. Dave adds, "Handing Donaghy a 12-month sentence, the Judge concluded: "Her personal circumstances should be given considerable weight, and accordingly I am suspending the sentence for a period of two years."


10 Oct 2018

Tenant admits illegal sub-letting & 'right to buy' fraud

A father has admitted fraudulently trying to buy his Kilburn council flat under the government’s right-to-buy scheme – despite having lived in Watford for five years.

Ryan Cooper lived in Camden Council’s Casterbridge block in Abbey Road for more than a decade.

He was given the lease to the council flat in 2001, but ceased living there in October 2013.

At Highbury Corner magistrates’ court Cooper pleaded guilty to two charges and he will be sentenced at Blackfriars Crown Court on a date to be determined.

Along with the right-to-buy fraud, Cooper was convicted of illegally sub-letting the Abbey Road flat for five years between 2013 and 2018 after he moved to out to live with his wife and young son.

Camden Council has also made an unlawful profit order in hope of recovering £36,000 – the estimated difference between what he made in rent and what he was paying the council – from Cooper.

The defendant spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth and to enter his guilty pleas.

Prosecuting on behalf of Camden Council, Edward Sarkis told magistrates: “Under the fraud act, you are looking at medium-to-high culpability here.

“The second offence saw Mr Cooper submit a right-to-buy application. The application should be from someone who had actually been living in the property, but Mr Cooper had been living in Watford with his wife and child.”

Mr Sarkis added: “Having had the lease since 2001, he would have been in line for a considerable discount under right-to-buy.”

Defending, Jeffrey Lewis said; “Obviously Mr Cooper should get credit for his guilty pleas. He also handed back the keys to the property – Camden did not have to seek a possession order.

“At the end of the day we are talking about a man of good character, and I hope to prove this whether in this court or another.”

As he bailed Cooper to appear at Blackfriars Crown Court for sentencing, the lead sitting magistrate said: “We are talking about potential loss to Camden Council, but more properly the loss to the person on the council housing waiting list who should have been in that property.”


9 Oct 2018

Probation officer in benefit fraud

A woman who illegally claimed more than £7,000 in benefits while working as a probation officer has avoided jail.

Tara Gale, 38, claimed Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit between February 2015 and February 2016 while in paid employment.

The mother-of-one failed to disclose her circumstances when she made the benefit application to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), on the grounds she was unable to work and having no income or savings.

In total she fraudulently claimed £7,351.70 from the DWP and Bridgend Council .

When it came to light that Gale was working as a probation officer, an investigation was launched and she was interviewed under caution.

She said she was “surprised” when it was put to her she was in work while claiming benefits, and had not done it intentionally but due to “problems with her memory”.

Gale, from Bridgend, initially pleaded not guilty to two counts of benefit fraud but changed her pleas in April.

It was claimed on Gale’s behalf that she suffered with dyslexia and possible bipolar disorder and ADHD.

She has one previous conviction for shoplifting dating back to 2015.

However did she get to be a probation officer?

She was due to be sentenced in May but Judge Neil Bidder QC deferred sentencing so Gale could be given the chance to engage with mental health services and to arrange to make regular payments to the DWP.

He warned on the last occasion that if she failed to comply with the requirements she would be sent to prison.

At the postponed sentencing hearing at Cardiff Crown Court, Judge Bidder said Gale had complied with what had been asked of her.

He added: “As a probation officer, you have let yourself down and this sort of thing reflects very badly on the service. It’s not their fault but it is a reflection on them.

"This was a dishonest failure to say you were working while applying for benefit and you obtained £7,351 through your dishonesty.

“You are not a person of good character and in my judgement this is serious enough to pass the custody threshold but if you make payments of your debt to the benefit agencies, I will not send you to prison.”

Gale was sentenced to 18 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years.


8 Oct 2018

Benefit cheat said he had fled the Taliban

A man who fled the Taliban wrongly claimed almost £30,000 in benefits, a court was told. (h/t Dave)

Car wash boss Rassul Kadir, 33, claimed Incapacity Benefit saying he could not work because he had a bad back.

But investigators from the Department of Work and Pensions discovered Kadir, from Blackpool, managed to hold down four jobs during the period.

Kadir admitted two charges under the Fraud Act of dishonestly failing to disclose information about his work and a third charge of making a false statement to claim Council Tax Benefit from Preston Council. Pam Smith, prosecuting at Blackpool Magistrates’ Court, said the claims for benefit had been made by Kadir, who stated he was unfit for work.

When interviewed, Kadir denied doing any paid work but when confronted with evidence admitted what he had done claiming he did not understand the claims system or understand English.

His lawyer, Gerry Coyle, said Kadir had fled from his home country with his father when he was 16 because of the Taliban regime. He said: “He has turned his life round and has a car wash on Talbot Road in Blackpool which employs six people.”

He was bailed until October 31 for sentencing.


4 Oct 2018

Assets concealed in housing benefit fraud

A Renfrewshire man admitted claiming benefits on his mum’s behalf she was not entitled to - by failing to disclose all her savings while having Power of Attorney over her.

Stewart Connelly was authorised to act on behalf of his mother, Amelia Connelly, from Renfrew, between June 2015 and February this year.

He told Renfrewshire Council she had a bank account which contained £6,367 in savings, but she actually had six other accounts and savings totalling more than £43,000, taking her over the £16,000 allowance for people being allowed to claim Housing Benefit.

This led her to obtain £12,000 in Housing Benefit she was not entitled to.

The Department of Work and Pensions launched an investigation after it received a tip-off his mother had more in savings than had been submitted.

The probe revealed the extra £37,000 in her accounts and led to Stewart, 56, being prosecuted. At Paisley Sheriff Court last week, he admitted his guilt.

Procurator Fiscal Depute Pamela Flynn told the court a claim had been made on Mrs Connelly’s behalf in 2015 - before Stewart got Power of Attorney over her.

She said: “On October 28, 2016, the accused reported a change of circumstances. He advised her savings had slightly changed.”

He informed the DWP she had around £6,300 in savings but did not mention her other six accounts.
Miss Flynn added: “There was a referral to the DWP alleging his mother had savings. They made enquiries with Halifax Bank of Scotland and found with them seven accounts, with a total of £43,000 within.”

Defence solicitor Manus Tolland said Connelly had been living in London but had moved back to Scotland and was given the legal power over his mother, who passed away last month. He said Connelly “didn’t make proper investigations” into his mother’s finances and the money had since been repaid.

Sheriff Seith Ireland called for background reports to be prepared ahead of sentencing, and confirmation on whether the sum had been paid back, and adjourned the case until later this month.


2 Oct 2018

Suspended sentence for repeat benefit fraud

A benefits fraudster who swindled the taxpayer out of nearly £24,000 after falsely claiming she was the main carer for her three children has escaped an immediate jail sentence. (h/t Dave)

Mother Tanya Palmer carried out her “unsophisticated offence doomed to fail” for five years between 2012 and 2017, Cardiff Crown Court heard.

"Unsophisticated" benefit fraud it may have been but it lasted for five years and netted nearly £24,000!

Prosecutor Tom Roberts said the 29-year-old was convicted of a similar offence in 2014 when she was sentenced to a community order for income support and housing benefit overpayments of £5,500.

So the child tax credit fraud was going on while she was convicted of the earlier offence but it wasn't admitted then.

He told the judge, Recorder Simon Foster, how Palmer, from Newport, had conned the state out of £23,934.47 during her latest scam.

She admitted three counts of fraudulently obtaining child tax credit. Mr Roberts said that her children had been removed from her care.

He added that no application was being made to recover the money under the Proceeds of Crime Act as it would be a “waste of time”.

Ben Waters, mitigating for his client, said Palmer had recently been homeless and suffered from “anxiety and depression”. He added that her latest con trick was an “unsophisticated offence doomed to fail”.

Mr Waters said the money “was not used to fund a lavish lifestyle” but had been spent to satisfy the heroin addiction of a former partner who was now serving a lengthy prison sentence. He told the judge that Palmer should be allowed maximum credit after she admitted the offences at an early stage.

Recorder Foster told the defendant: “You have pleaded guilty to very serious offences to swindle the taxpayer out of many thousands of pounds.”

But he said he would not be imposing an immediate jail sentence as she had made “significant progress” to free herself of her own heroin use, was no longer homeless and was in a stable relationship with a new partner.

The judge added that she was “extraordinarily fortunate” not be going straight to jail.

She will serve eight months in prison, suspended for two years, and was also sentenced to a 12-day rehabilitation activity requirement, 150 hours of unpaid work and a £140 victim surcharge.


1 Oct 2018

Conditional discharge for benefit fraud

A benefit cheat who claimed that she had serious mobility problems because of arthritis was secretly filmed walking two dogs and going shopping without difficulties.

She fiddled more than £8,300 in wrongful disability living allowance payments after her condition "dramatically" improved, a court heard.

Georgina Parkinson, 68, from Flixborough, denied failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting her entitlement to disability living allowance between March 4, 2015 and April 26, 2016. She was convicted by a jury at Grimsby Crown Court after a trial.

Simon Clegg, prosecuting, said that Parkinson claimed disability living allowance from the 1990s because of health problems. She completed forms in 2005 and 2013 about her condition but, during 2015 and 2016, her problems "dramatically" improved so much that she should have told the benefits authorities.

Parkinson later told investigators: "I have good days. I have bad days."

A fraud investigator secretly filmed Parkinson 10 times walking without any problems. She was seen walking two dogs at a "steady pace" from her home to a distance half a mile away before returning. On another occasion, she was seen parking but not in a disabled space, walking to go inside a Home Bargains store and pushing a trolley.

Parkinson had previously declared in forms that she needed a "Zimmer frame or walking sticks" and that she had falls and that her "legs give way without warning". She claimed that she could walk only short distances and suffered from arthritis in both knees, her spine, her neck and her thumbs.

In 2015, she declared that she had physical problems restricting her walking "all the time" and that she was "very slow" because she got very breathless with pain in her back and legs. She claimed: "I never go out without someone with me as I have had a lot of falls."

The court heard that she was not fit enough to do unpaid work, did not need supervision and could not afford a fine. A prison sentence was ruled out because it did not come under the sentencing guidelines for the amount of money involved.

She was, therefore, given a two-year conditional discharge.

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