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20 Apr 2018

Cheating council tenant rakes in £31k renting out her private flat

A cheating council tenant raked in £31,000 renting her private flat but has been caught out and will have to cough up all the cash or go to jail. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

Irina Serstena appeared before Peterborough Crown Court on April 13 to hear the outcome of a Proceeds Of Crime Act application.

Serstena, from Peterborough and previously of Loves Way, St Neots, pleaded guilty to two offences under the Fraud Act 2006 by applying for social housing when she already owned a property and was renting it out privately.

Huntingdonshire District Council’s Corporate Fraud Team launched an investigation following information received from housing association BPHA, which was the landlord of her property in Loves Way.

Investigators discovered Serstena bought a flat in Gabriel Court in Peterborough in August 2011 and failed to declare this to the council while applying for social housing.

She continued to bid for social housing and in October 2011, she successfully and illegally bid for a property in Loves Way, St Neots and moved there in November 2011.

But the investigation found Serstena had been renting out the flat she owned in Peterborough for the last six years and receiving the money while she continued to live in the Loves Way property.

Serstena originally appeared at court on December 15, 2017 and, as a result of pleading guilty, was sentenced to a 12-month Community Order concurrent in respect of each offence with a requirement for 150 hours unpaid work.

On April 13, His Honour Judge Lowe made a confiscation order for Serstena to pay £31,184.62 in full within six months or face a one year prison sentence. Costs of £1,200 were also awarded to the council.

Oliver Morley, the council's Corporate Director of Services, said “We work hard to ensure cheats are not going to get away with it in Huntingdonshire. We take housing those that need it very seriously and, as this case shows, we use all powers at our disposal to pursue those that illegally claim help they are not entitled to. We are proud to work closely with partners and this case should show how hard we work to protect public services and money.”

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19 Apr 2018

Sisters jailed for social housing frauds

A shamed council housing officer who pretended to be homeless as she scammed her employer has been ordered to repay £20,000. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

Zara Danyaal used fake IDs to blag her way into three council tenancies - denying homes to those in genuine need.

She carried out the fraud whilst working as a senior housing needs officer for Birmingham City Council .

But Danyaal was rumbled when the council began a probe.

She was later sacked and, in June 2016, jailed for two-and-a-half years at Birmingham Crown Court for one charge relating to social housing fraud and a further six months for two offences relating to job references.

Now Danyaal, 38, from Acocks Green, has been ordered to repay £20,000 in compensation to her former employers under a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing.

Her sister, Samara Malik, 28, also from Acocks Green, was involved in the scam and was jailed for ten months for an offence of social housing fraud,

Robert James, director of housing at Birmingham City Council, said: “We welcome this hearing result which recognises the severity of the crime committed. The act of fraud prevented several families from being housed and since discovering these actions, Birmingham City Council has been proactive from the start in pursuing and bringing the perpetrators to justice. The compensation now received will be reinvested by the council to prevent further acts of fraud from being committed.”

He said the authority was committed to protecting the public funds.

“It is imperative that losses from fraud and corruption are, where possible, eradicated to ensure that resources are used to provide essential services for citizens. Our counter fraud team uses sophisticated data analysis to detect fraud and anyone who commits, or attempts to commit, fraudulent or corrupt acts against the council will be held to account in a decisive manner.”

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18 Apr 2018

Woman admits £21,000 benefit fraud

A woman who wrongly received more than £21,000 in benefits after failing to notify the DWP about a change in her living arrangements must carry out 150 hours of unpaid work as punishment.

Donna Baker, 52, from Royal Wootton Bassett, pleaded guilty to not notifying the department of this change in Cricklade between January 24 2014 and May 9 2017 - 170 weeks of Employment and Support Allowance totalling £21,368.24.

The money will be recouped by the Department for Work and Pensions. Baker had received ESA since 2012 as her back pain and MS made her unable to work.

She'd truthfully claimed that she was estranged from her husband, sharing a marital home but living in separate households, but from 2014 the pair lived together.in Cricklade and moved to a mobile home park in 2016.

Philip Hall, defending, explained: "They owed money left right and centre, so they sold their home to pay off their £200,000 debts. They've not been able to move apart and when the house was sold she realised she couldn't manage living on her own."

A member from the probation team said: "They live in separate bedrooms, that's why both their names are on the tenancy agreement, she said she didn't know that this meant she couldn't claim benefits."

Baker must also attend 20 rehab activity days and pay £85 in costs.

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17 Apr 2018

Social housing fraudster must pay £54k

A social housing fraudster has been found guilty of illegally sub-letting a home in Islington.

Patrick Ofori-Sampong, 50, was found to have two homes, one with Peabody and one with another landlord in Waltham Forest.

He was illegally subletting the Peabody property while living in another he bought under Right to Buy. He was exploiting a sub-tenant who was paying him inflated rent.

He pleaded guilty to one offence under the housing fraud act and one under the prevention of social housing fraud act last month and was given a two year sentence suspended for 18 months, meaning he avoids jail.

Ofori-Sampong must also do 180 hours of unpaid work, pay an unlawful profit order of £5,100 and pay Peabody £45,000 compensation within six months, as well as £4,000 in costs. He surrendered his tenancy, freeing up the property for someone on the 18,000-strong council waiting list.

Last year the council only let 1,172 properties – to 6 per cent of applicants. The Audit Commission has estimated tenancy fraud costs the taxpayer £1.8bn a year and could amount to as many as 160,000 fraudulent tenancies in London.

Andrew Jeffries, Peabody’s tenancy fraud chief said: “We are pleased to have recovered this property so we can provide a decent and much needed home to someone from the Islington Council housing waiting list. Anybody who tries to defraud the public out of social housing can expect to be prosecuted and incur significant costs.”

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Social housing fraud is the most wicked form of welfare fraud. The sums that can be saved are huge, but it's so much more than the money - needy families are being deprived of the chance to have a settled home that meets their needs.

16 Apr 2018

Benefits cheat 'didn't want to pay for rent'

A benefits cheat failed to declare he had thousands of pounds in savings because he “didn’t want to pay his rent”.

Ronald Eagleson was given a total of more than £12,000 in Housing Benefit and Employment Support over three-and-a-half years, despite having cash secretly stashed in bank accounts.

The 64-year-old was finally investigated by the Department for Works and Pensions but, when asked about his bank statements, he initially denied they were his.

A court was told that, when he was eventually shown an up-to-date Schedule of Capital Assets, Eagleson knew the game was up and finally came clean.

And, when officers asked if the reason he failed to declare his savings was because he wanted to carry on receiving Housing Benefit so his rent would be paid, Eagleson replied: “Probably”.

Now, Eagleson, from Newcastle, has been ordered to do unpaid work after he pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting entitlement to social security.

Laura Croft, prosecuting at North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court, said Eagleson failed to declare his savings or that he was getting a pension between August 2013 and January 2017 and so received benefits he was not entitled to.

An investigation was launched and he was subsequently interviewed in March and July 2017.

Miss Croft said: “In March, the defendant said bank statements he was shown didn’t belong to him. He was asked about an offshore account but said it was a debt that he owed someone overseas. He said he closed the account and gave the money to his daughter.

“In the July interview, the defendant was shown an up-to-date Schedule of Capital Assets and he did then make admissions. He was asked if he did it because he wanted his rent to be paid. He replied “Probably”. The defendant didn’t declare that he had savings or that he was getting a pension. He now accepts he lied about the fact he had capital in his account.”

The court was told Eagleson, who has no past convictions, had savings of at least £16,000.

Emma Silburn, mitigating, said Eagleson had worked all his life and had spent a period of time in the Armed Forces.

The solicitor added: “He made full and frank admissions and pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity.”

The court was told arrangements had been made between Eagleson, the Department for Works and Pensions and Newcastle City Council to pay back the £12,724 he had dishonestly claimed.

Magistrates gave him a 12-month community order, with 100 hours of unpaid work, and told him to pay £85 costs and an £85 victim surcharge.

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15 Apr 2018

Conman jailed for £250,000 benefit fraud

A conman who convinced a doctor he was a quadriplegic by just sitting in a wheelchair, has been sent to prison for over three years for a £250,000 benefit fraud.

Truro Crown Court was told Brian Matthews, from Penzance, spun a web of lies over more than 20 years that involved impersonating a dead man, lying about being a carer for his autistic children and disabled wife, and pretending to be a quadriplegic; all to fund his gambling addiction.

Matthews had an industrial accident in 1996 that left him with minor injuries, and managed to convince authorities that he was a quadriplegic (suffering from paralysis of both arms and both legs) until he was arrested in 2016.

He forged doctor’s notes and persuaded a Truro GP who didn’t feel it necessary to examine him, instead trusting that he was a quadriplegic because he was in a wheelchair.

Brian Matthews told Truro crown court “I am actually saving the government a lot of money” before judge Robert Linford sentenced him to three years, six and a half months in prison for committing nearly £250,000 in benefit fraud

Judge Robert Linford said at the sentencing: “You are, Mr Matthews, a con man.”

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12 Apr 2018

Repeat criminal did benefit fraud

A carer fraudulently claimed thousands of pounds worth of benefits while working at a nursing home.

Lisa Buckley claimed more than £4,000 in housing benefit and Employment and Support Allowance on the basis that she was not fit for work.

But while she was making these claims she was working full-time as a care assistant at Lindley Grange Nursing Home.

The 48-year-old admitted benefit fraud on the day she was due to stand trial at Kirklees Magistrates’ Court.

The Huddersfield court was told that her claims were fraudulent from the outset when she started making them in May 2016.

Andy Wills, prosecuting, said that Buckley applied for ESA on the basis that she was unfit for work and had no other source of income. She provided a medical certificate and was subsequently paid housing benefit, also between May and November of the same year.

Mr Wills said: “This money was paid directly into her bank account on the basis that she must tell the Department for Work and Pensions and Kirklees Council of any changes in her circumstances which may affect her entitlement. It then came to light that she was working for a company, the Bupa care service, as a care assistant at Lindley Grange Care Home. She was working full-time and started there on November 3, 2015.”

Magistrates were told that Buckley, of no fixed address but formally of Moldgreen, was invited to attend several police interviews about her benefit claims. She failed to do so, claiming that she was unavailable due to a training course and then a new rota and was eventually charged with the offences without being interviewed.

Magistrates were told that she was overpaid a total of £4,075 as a result of her deception.

Buckley had denied benefit fraud but on the day of her trial pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit.

She has 35 offences to her name, including shoplifting, producing cannabis and obtaining property by deception.

Sonia Kidd, mitigating, said that her client had suffered following the death of the ex-partner she described as her “best friend” and father of her children.

Mrs Kidd said: “That’s had a devastating effect on her and at the time she simply didn’t know what she was doing from one day to the next. It had massive consequences in relation to her daily living and she fell into significant depression. It was at this time that the claim was made and it has to be accepted that her application was dishonest from the outset.”

Magistrates heard that Buckley lost her job in November as a result of her offending and was evicted from her property due to money owed to her landlord.

She is now in receipt of Universal Credit as a result of these losses, the court was told.

Magistrates sentenced her to a nine month community order with up to 15 days of rehabilitation activities. She will have to pay £100 towards prosecution costs and £85 victim surcharge.

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10 Apr 2018

Benefits cheat must pay back £25,000

A mum who swindled £25,000 in benefits must pay back the cash or face a year in prison.

Dishonest Janet Trewin, aged 55, carried on pocketing money for three and a half years even though she was sharing a home with a working partner.

She walked free with unpaid work but was brought back to court under the Proceeds of Crime Act so prosecutors could seize her ill-gotten gains.

Michael Brown, for the Department for Work and Pensions, said that she had falsely claimed £24,999. But the amount she must pay back has been increased to £26,434 to take into account inflation.

Mr Brown added that it was agreed that Trewin’s assets – her interest in a property – amounted to £97,876.

Judge James Townsend ordered that she pay back £26,434 within three months and set a default period in jail of 12 months.

Ali Rafati, for Trewin, said his client had already started paying back the money to the DWP – which will be deducted from the final total. He told an earlier hearing that she might have to sell the property to raise the cash.

Trewin pleaded guilty to dishonestly making a false claim for Employment Support Allowance between August 2012 and January 2016.

She failed to tell the authorities she was living with her working partner, Dennis Blyth.

Trewin had been due to face trial but changed her plea in the face of the jury last November.

The court heard she in the end “let slip” she was living with a man and her children during an interview with investigators.

Mr Rafati told an earlier hearing that Mr Blyth, who had been in her life for a decade, had now left her.

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9 Apr 2018

A £500k benefit cheat caught dancing to Michael Jackson while claiming she was heavily disabled has been ordered to repay £190,000 - or face extra jail time.

Maribel Milligan, 54, was jailed for three years at Teesside Crown Court in February last year after claiming £539,000 in benefits over 11 years.

She claimed she could only use one arm, but police found she had turned the top floor of her home into a massage parlour.

She was also captured on film dancing to Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’.

And despite claiming hardship, she had homes dotted around the country - including pads in her native Venezuela.

Teesside Crown Court heard that her “laughable” excuses for the deception were so far-fetched they sparked giggling from jurors during her week-long trial.

Following sentencing, Milligan’s case was passed to the CPS Proceeds of Crime team.

After a lengthy investigation, she has now been told that she must repay a total of £189,725.33.

She was ordered to pay the full amount within six months or would be given a further prison sentence of three years.

Adrian Phillips, from the CPS, said: “Milligan lied for 11 years to fraudulently claim benefits. The Proceeds of Crime team ensured these assets, along with cash in her bank accounts, were restrained so the money could be returned to the public purse. The CPS will continue to work to ensure criminals like Milligan will not benefit from the funds made during their crimes.”

Teesside Crown Court heard the 53-year-old lived a “lavish” lifestyle, with prosecution pictures showing her outside the Eiffel Tower and dancing at a glittering wedding ceremony.

Milligan, of West Cornforth, County Durham, who illegally claimed seven different types of benefit, was also caught splashing in the sea and riding a bike.

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7 Apr 2018

Gogglebox's Sandra is a sponger

This isn't illegal, but it should be.

Gogglebox star Sandra Martin prefers being on benefits than being famous because it’s “less stressful”.

The 55-year-old was forced to sign on again in February after cash from her TV work – including 100 Years Younger – dried up.

Sandra Martin says being back on benefits is like being 'home' after relying on the welfare state for over 30 years

She quit Gogglebox in July 2017 and moved into a hotel to enjoy the last of her remaining cash.

Before Christmas, she then revealed she was “homeless and penniless” and was struggling to make ends meet.

Now Sandra is back claiming handouts and said she feels like she’s “home” after spending over three decades on welfare.

Sandra said: “I turned to benefits when the money ran out. I went back to the job centre and shouted, ‘Hello! I’m home!’

“I was on benefits for 35 years before I went on Gogglebox. I’m glad I’m back on social. I loved Gogglebox but it was stressful because I couldn’t talk as much as I wanted, when I wanted.”

Sandra said she does keep an eye out for the right jobs but said it would have to be on “her terms”.

For now she’s busy with charity work and hopes to open a small market stall.

She explained: “I can work under 16 hours to occupy my brain and I do so much charity work which I don’t get paid for. But right now I’m on benefits and I’m happy.

“If the right job comes along I’ll take it. But I’m a celebrity in my own right. I don’t need to be famous.

“I’ve got some meetings with some agents. But it’ll have to be the right thing. I’m perfect for Celebrity Juice – a show where you can have fun and speak your mind.”

As well as a number of charity events, Sandra has also been given a second chance at pantomime after she was “sacked from Aladdin for drinking on the job”.

Sandra insisted she wasn’t drinking and told The Sun Online she left for “medical reasons”.

While she’s happy to be out of the spotlight, she admitted she was excited about getting back on stage.

Sandra said: “When Simon Gross got in touch I was so excited. I’ve seen his version of Snow White in London and it was so funny! I’m going to work so hard at it. It’s only for one night but I know it’s going to be the best night!”

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