23 Jan 2015

Judge punishes housing benefit fraud

A benefit fraudster who claimed thousands she was not entitled to has been order to repay all her ill-gotten gains.

Elisabete Bacanhim, 38, formerly of Chalford Close, West Molesey, pleaded guilty to two benefit fraud offences against the council.

Bacanhim had left the house she was claiming benefits for and not told Elmbridge Council, so continued to get £2,569 of housing benefit she was not entitled to.

At Guildford Crown Court the Judge ordered she should complete 100 hours of unpaid work, repay all overpayments and make a contribution of £600 toward costs, to be paid off at £20 a week.

Councillor James Browne, cabinet member for housing, said:
While the overwhelming majority of our benefit claimants are honest I hope this serves as another reminder of the importance of promptly notifying the council of a change in circumstances. Keeping housing benefit in this way amounts to theft and the council will not hesitate to prosecute those who act dishonestly.

22 Jan 2015

Another state worker fiddles her tax credits

Following on from yesterday's report about a government employee fiddling her tax credits, here is another one.

This civil servant fraudulently claimed more than £86,000 in benefits by lying about her personal circumstances. She has been jailed.

Bolanle Shote, 41, from Basildon, pretended she was a single parent despite having lived with her partner for nearly a decade.

The former HM Revenue and Customs worker made multiple false claims for tax credits.

Cheryl Turton, Senior Manager for HMRC, said:
Tax credits are designed to support those hard-working families who most need extra financial support. What makes this fraud even more despicable is that Shote was employed by HMRC and knew full well that lying about her personal circumstances was fraud. She went to great lengths to hide her true situation from her colleagues and employer. Offences of this nature are taken very seriously by HMRC and now she has lost her job, her good name and has a criminal record.
Shote, a mother of three, was sentenced to eight months in prison during an appearance at Basildon Crown Court.

She claimed tax credits as a single parent from February 2003 until August 2012, when she changed her claim and told HMRC her husband had moved in with her.

Suspicions were raised after it emerged she had made joint mortgage and loan applications during the nine year period.

Shote resigned from HMRC in November 2013 - nine months before she was charged with dishonestly claiming tax credits.

She pleaded guilty to ten offences and repaid the full amount before being sentenced.

Addressing Shote, judge Ian Graham said: “This was a fraud from the outset which continued for over eight years and this, together with the amount involved, means that I have no option but to impose an immediate custodial sentence.”


21 Jan 2015

Benefits clerk fiddled tax credits

A benefits clerk employed to check for bogus claims cheated £50,000 in state handouts after running up debts with payday lenders Wonga. (h/t A Reader)

Caroline Bryon, from Hyde, worked for the Department of Work and Pensions, checking that claims for tax credits were genuine.

But she was secretly fiddling working tax credits and child tax credits herself.

Manchester Crown Court heard mum-of-two Bryon, 34, lied about her childcare costs - claiming they were double what they were - and lied about paying for childcare even when she was on maternity leave.

She also hid the fact that she was living with a partner who was working, racking up £50,344 in overpayments in just two years.

After Bryon’s own claims came under scrutiny from her employers she was sacked, arrested, and pleaded guilty to four charges of fraud by false representation between 2009 and 2011.

But she was spared jail after her defence barrister said locking her up would be ‘catastrophic’ for her two children.

He said her offences happened because she had been drinking heavily, had run up debts to payday lenders, and needed her own means after starting a relationship with a new man.

Jonathan Rogers, prosecuting, said: “The defendant worked for the DWP, processing and checking claims for exactly the type of benefit she was overpaid. One of her childcare providers stated that she asked her to say she had paid her almost double what she had in fact in paid and to backdate it. (Bryon) will have known what checks might be carried out because she carried them out herself.”

Andrew Evans, defending, argued there was ‘no evidence’ she had used her knowledge of the system for personal gain. A trail of documents and emails sent from her work account revealed she was living with her new partner, and showed there was’ no thought or sophistication whatsoever’ to her offence, he added.

“The reason why a 34-year-old lady sits in this court for the first time stem from debt - we have the name Wonga appearing predominantly - we have interest rates of 4000 per cent, we have a debt spiral”, Mr Evans added.

Sentencing her to 14 months, suspended for two years, with 200 hours unpaid work and a requirement to attend a women’s project, Recorder Andrew Thomas QC said her offence was ‘aggravated’ by her job, and that she had cheated her ‘colleagues, friends and neighbours - decent people who work hard and have to pay taxes.’


20 Jan 2015

Caroline Foxley jailed

We noted Caroline Foxley here, after she was convicted in October 2014 of four counts of benefit fraud but while awaiting sentence claimed a further £30,000 in benefits.

Gloucester Crown Court heard Foxley also tried to transfer £40,000 from the Swiss account to her son in Russia.

She has now been jailed for eight months. A proceeds of crime hearing is due to take place later this year.

The court heard Foxley had been legally entitled to claim income support benefits from 2006.

But the following year, she sold her Cotswold home, Depot Lodge in Chipping Camden, for £306,000 and placed about £200,000 into a Swiss bank account.

Foxley, now of no fixed address, said the money belonged to the father of her children, Dr Kurt Mayer, and could not be touched due to his alleged links with the Mafia in Italy.

Bank records show money was taken out of the account to pay school fees - including to Cheltenham Ladies College and Bloxham School in Oxford - for her two children.

Judge Alastair McGrigor, assistant judge advocate general, said Foxley then made fraudulent claims for benefits, amounting to over £19,000, which required "significant planning".

She claimed income support and jobseeker's allowance from the Department for Work and Pensions, along with council tax and housing benefits from Cotswold District Council.

Following an investigation into those claims she then applied for - and was paid - benefits from Malvern Hills and Wychavon District Councils, the court heard.

Representing Foxley, David Leathley said his client had not used the money to fund a "lavish" lifestyle for herself, only to support her children.


19 Jan 2015

Benefit claimant with false identity gets 18 months in jail

A man with two identities who falsely claimed more than £61,000 in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the London Borough of Wandsworth has been sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to eight counts of fraud and two counts of using false identity documents. (h/t A Reader)

Mr Hassan Samrani (45) had claimed benefit on two properties in Kensington and Chelsea using the name Noureddine Belaidi, as well as claiming on a property in Wandsworth, declaring himself to be the sole recipient of benefit.

Suspicions arose after council officers received information from the Metropolitan Police which had successfully prosecuted Samrani for being in possession of a false French passport in the name of Noureddine Belaidi. Documentation received during the police investigation showed Belaidi was in fact Mr Hassan Samrani, a Moroccan national.

Subsequently, Council investigators obtained witness statements and documentation from the Metropolitan Police and Mr Samrani was interviewed under caution on 27 November 2013, with officers from Wandsworth Council present. During the interview he accepted his real name was Hassan Samrani.

Following an investigation Samrani was summonsed by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in respect of the offences on behalf of both boroughs

On the 24 October 2014 Mr Samrani, who had pleaded not guilty at a previous hearing, changed his plea to guilty on all counts at Isleworth Crown Court.

The case took eleven months from the interview to come to court.

In sentencing Samrani His Honour Judge Denniss stated that the offences had taken considerable planning including paying for a false ID, passport and driving licence.

The court heard in mitigation that Mr Samrani had sought to regularise his immigration status and now has four children with his wife and also stepchildren.

In summing up Judge Denniss indicated that his starting point for sentencing was 24-months in custody. However, he gave Samrani limited credit for changing his plea to guilty and sentenced him to 18-months imprisonment to run concurrently on all counts.


16 Jan 2015

Light sentence for benefit thief, 75

A pensioner has been given a 12-month community order for receiving more than £55,000 through benefit fraud.

Veronica Knibbs, from Blackbird Leys, Oxford, pleaded guilty in December in Oxford Magistrates Court to dishonestly taking £56,113 in housing benefit, council tax benefit and council tax reduction.

The 75-year-old was charged with failing to declare personal savings and making false statements to West Oxfordshire District Council and Oxford City Council between July 2000 and May 2014.

Miss Knibbs was sentenced on January 8 at Oxford Crown Court, where she received a 12-month community order and was told to do 150 hours’ unpaid work.

Labour city councillor for Rose Hill and Iffley and deputy leader of the council Ed Turner said:
This case illustrates the robust procedures that we have in place at the city council to detect fraud and ensure that those found to be abusing the system are dealt with in a firm and appropriate manner.
Recorder Nicholas Syfret QC said that Miss Knibbs should feel shame for taking money from the state, adding that she had been thoroughly dishonest for many years.


Benefit thieves do it for the money. They should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole.

That would be a deterrent.

A confiscation order should be made immediately.

Finding unpaid work for someone aged 76 will probably be more trouble than it's worth.

15 Jan 2015

Social housing fraud in Brighton & Hove

Brighton and Hove City Council has been swindled out of more than £1.1 million.

The council has lost £1,118,442 in 245 cases of fraud in the 2013/14 financial year, a report published by the Audit Commission said.

The number of detected cases is less than the average for other similar authorities, but the value of the fraud is nearly double the average.

Housing benefit and council tax benefit fraud accounted for most of the money. They amounted to 115 cases costing £1,088,442. The council also recovered ten properties as a result of social housing fraud.

In addition to the sum, there were five cases of internal fraud found, at a value of £33,183, recorded in the report.

The council has been unable to give details of these incidents so far and the dismissal of officer Jugal Sharma was not mentioned in the report. Mr Sharma, the head of housing, was relieved of his post in January last year but officially sacked in November on the grounds of gross misconduct linked to short-term leasing arrangements.

Ian Withers was also not mentioned. The head of audit and business risk, who investigates fraud claims, was suspended over alleged misconduct in December 2013.

All the figures in the annual survey of fraud and corruption in each council were below the average for similar sized authorities.


14 Jan 2015

Tiny punishment for crooked pensioner

A pensioner fraudulently claimed more than £15,000 in council and housing tax benefits after failing to disclose that he had inherited £63,000 from his mother, a court has heard.

Uttlesford District Council brought a prosecution against John Kline for fraudulently claiming Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, and Council Tax Relief – totalling £15,388.75 – over a three-year period.

Mr Kline, 72, from Little Hallingbury, attended Chelmsford Magistrates Court on January 5 but chose not to remain for the duration of the proceedings.

The magistrates were informed that he had requested an adjournment, but decided to proceed in his absence. He was found guilty and ordered to pay £1,869.10 in fines, victim surcharge, and costs.

The charges were one of failing to notify a change of circumstances while in receipt of benefit, namely that he had received a substantial inheritance, and one of failing to declare the bank account where the inheritance had been placed when he completed the renewal form for the continuation of his benefit.

Between March 21, 2011 and June 29, 2014, Mr Kline claimed Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, but failed to declare a savings account with a balance of over £63,000.

The council’s Housing Benefit Matching Service highlighted the discrepancy and an investigation by the authority’s Enforcement Section began in April 2014.

Details of his accounts were provided by his bank following a request from the council, showing the undeclared account was opened in March 2011.

In May 2012, a benefit review form was sent to Mr Kline, and his returned declaration made no mention of the new account.

Cllr Robert Chambers, cabinet member for finance, said: “I am pleased to see that a fraudulent claim has been exposed, renewing the warning to others who may try and abuse the system that we will find them and prosecute them. They are cheating the system and genuine claimants, and it is only right that they are punished as a result.”


He stole over £15,000 - yet his total punishment was to pay less than £1,900.

Benefit thieves do it for the money. They should have to pay back twice what they stole. They should not be eligible for any benefits until they have, and they should have to do some unpaid work every week until the debt to society is cleared.

That would be a deterrent.

A confiscation order should be made immediately.

Hit them in the pocket!

Benefit cheats swindled £4.2m in N Essex in past five years

Benefits cheats in north Essex have swindled more than £4.2million in the past five years. (h/t Dave)

The East Anglian Daily Times Colchester Borough and Tendring and Braintree district councils how much had been fraudulently claimed from them, and how many cases of benefit fraud they had dealt with since 2010.

The authorities also supplied details of the number of these cases which had been taken to court, and the amount of money determined by the justice system to have been falsely claimed.

Often cases are dealt with through a caution or penalty, but in more complicated or serious frauds – or those denied by claimants – they result in a trial.

In total £4,243,709 in fraudulent claims has been detected across the three areas since April 2010, with just more than half of this taken through the courts.

This is only for cases run by councils, and does not include cases brought by the DWP for other benefits.

Paul Honeywood, councillor for benefits at Tendring District Council, said: “If your circumstances change it is important you tell the council, as you may be in a position where you are receiving money you’re not entitled to, but you may be entitled to more money. It’s only a phone call and we don’t want people who are genuine to get caught in the trap. If people are cheating the system and deliberately trying to defraud taxpayers’ money we will pursue that rigorously because that is the right thing to do – at the end of the day they are stealing from the taxpayer.”

Paul Smith, Colchester borough councillor for business and resources, said: “Clearly any benefit fraud is not something any council can tolerate, and the money people are claiming illegally is money which could and should be better used for those in real need. That’s why Colchester Borough Council puts significant resources into combatting fraud, and as the figures demonstrate we have been successful in identifying and stopping considerable amounts of fraud over the years. We make sure we do take action against the small minority acting illegally, and seek to gain compensation. In the past couple of years we have undertaken a number of initiatives which have led to the identification of a number of cases, some of which have been going on for a considerable period of time which means the amounts are larger. While 56 cases is too many, compared to the 10-12,000 people claiming in Colchester it is a very small percentage.”

David Bebb, councillor for performance and efficiency at Braintree District Council, said: “As an authority it is our responsibility to protect the public purse and ensure fraudulent claims are recovered, and we have been very successful in taking benefit cheats to court and recovering the money from them. However, this does cost the authority money, money that could be better spent, and it’s important to remember that benefits are there to support those most vulnerable in our society, so those that abuse the system are not simply stealing from the council, but effectively from their own communities.”


13 Jan 2015

Housing benefit - fraud and error is rising

Fraud and false claims for the state benefit that is most often abused has amounted to an astonishing £12.6 billion since the turn of the Millennium, MPs reported yesterday.

The amount sucked out of Housing Benefit by welfare cheats, in exaggerated claims, and through straightforward bureaucratic blunders was the equivalent of around £1 billion a year for the first 13 years of the century.

The loss to the taxpayer would pay the price of policing Britain for a year or cover more than four fifths of the bill for the road improvements that David Cameron has promised over the next five years.

Or tax cuts

It would have paid the whole cost of four aircraft carriers instead of the two which have been developed for the Royal Navy since 2000.

Or tax cuts

And the influential Public Accounts Committee, which acts as a public spending watchdog, revealed the amount of fraud and error in Housing Benefit is still going up.

A report condemned the Department of Work and Pensions – which pays out for the benefit designed to cover the rent for people who cannot afford to pay their own – for failure to curb false claims, and added that MPs were sceptical of promises by civil servants to slash the losses by more than two thirds by this spring.

Chairman Margaret Hodge said:
Billions of pounds have been lost to the taxpayer as a result of the Department’s failure to tackle Housing Benefit fraud and error effectively. Around £12.6 billion has been spent on Housing Benefit overpayments since 2000, money that could have been used to improve the system. The size of overpayments is going up not down.
Curbing fraud and error in Housing Benefit has proved difficult for all governments over the past 20 years, partly because the benefit is handed out by local councils which have varying levels of efficiency in detecting dishonest or inflated claims.

In the last financial year, 2013/14, losses amounted to £1.4 billion, more than £400 million higher than in 2010/11. Of this, £340 million was outright fraud and £900 million was claimant error, for example when someone who has been unemployed gets a job but forgets to tell the council that they have an income. The line between fraud and error is often blurred.

Yes, they like to assume a claim is a mistake rather than dishonest.

Another £150 million was lost in mistakes by staff calculating and paying the benefit.

Housing Benefit losses account for more than £4 in every £10 of everything lost by the Government in all false benefit claims. Officials working for Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith have said they will cut the level of loss, currently 5.8 per cent of all the Housing Benefit paid out, to 1.7 per cent by this spring.

Mrs Hodge said: ‘Given the lack of evidence that the Department is getting to grips with fraud and error, we view with scepticism the Department’s confidence that it will meet its target.’

She said the Department was expecting ‘significant’ benefits from a switch to ‘real-time information’, under which HMRC will tell the DWP as soon as someone gets a job, rather than giving DWP officials updates on the earnings of claimants just once a year.

Mrs Hodge said officials were ‘doing little else to tackle Housing Benefit fraud and error’.