18 Jul 2016

Sheriff: I'm not prepared to do nothing

A Dunfermline sheriff said he was “not prepared to do nothing” after being told there were “restricted” options for sentencing a Wellwood benefits cheat. (h/t Dave)

Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard that Maria Irving, 51, had health difficulties which presented “a restricted range of ways for the court” to deal with her offence.

She admitted that between October 15, 2013, and April 19, 2015, at her address and elsewhere, she knowingly failed to give prompt notification to the Department of Work and Pensions of a change of circumstances which she knew affected her entitlement to employment and support allowance, in that her partner was in employment, and she obtained £3,220.14 to which she was not entitled.

Solicitor Gordon Martin presented letters from a GP and community psychiatric nurse and said that apart from traffic offences, Irving was a first offender with no outstanding cases.

Mr Martin explained that repayment of £3,740 had been made, “which is greater than the sum to which she has pleaded guilty”.

He added that Irving's husband had arranged for a lump sum of £2,000 to be paid and £100 to be paid by direct debit. He continued: “Because of her health difficulties there are a restricted range of ways for the court to deal with this.”

However, Sheriff Charles Macnair remarked: “The alternative would be to do nothing. That would not be in the public interest not to reflect this criminality.” He imposed a restriction of liberty order of 68 days as a direct alternative to custody.

He told Irving: “Over a period of 18 months, you defrauded benefits of more than £3,000, which is a significant offence. The problem with benefit fraud is that it's relatively easy to commit and hard to detect. The resources which have to be diverted from other more worthy causes to detect benefit fraud are significant. The social work report leaves me with few options but I'm not prepared to do nothing.”


14 Jul 2016

Solicitor convicted of benefit fraud

A former solicitor and lay member of the Employment Tribunal has been given a 12 month community order and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work at Isleworth Crown Court after being found guilty of dishonestly making a false representation, contrary to Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.

The Court heard how Ms Abosede Panama (57), from Ilford, London IG1, made an application for a Discretionary Housing Payment from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s benefit service on 27 September 2013. The Discretionary Housing Payment scheme is designed to help Housing Benefit claimants faced with rent arrears and is only awarded in exceptional circumstances.

Ms Panama signed an application confirming she had accumulated rent arrears of £7,033. When asked about her income and capital, she declared that she held no money in bank accounts. A Discretionary Housing Payment of £5,130.17 was subsequently paid to Ms Panama in October 2013.

An investigation into her circumstances, by the Council’s Anti-Fraud Service, revealed the information she provided to the Council had not been accurate.

Statements for Ms Panama’s Post Office account showed that on the day she made her application she had £3,000 in savings and investigators discovered the account had stood at £8,000 in the months prior to her application. Had this been declared the £5,130.17 payment would not have been paid and Ms Panama would have been expected to clear her own rent arrears.

When interviewed under caution on 13 May 2014, Ms Panama insisted that she had passed the debit card for the Post Office account to her son to assist him with his university studies. However, investigators noted that the account remained in the sole name of Ms Panama. During the interview, Panama admitted that her son had access to his own student funding, including a loan and a grant.

His Honour Judge Edmunds QC said that he took into account Panama’s previous good character and the fact that as a single parent she had brought up five children and provided for them but added that this was a struggle faced by many in society. He was also satisfied that this was not an offence where she had repeated falsehoods over a long period.

However, on sentencing, he said of Abosede Panama: “I assess your evidence on oath to have been dishonest and manipulative.” He also described her application for the Discretionary Housing Payment to have been “deliberately dishonest”. He described her prospects of ever again practising as a solicitor as “bleak”.


12 Jul 2016

N E Lincs reports on fraud

Two members of staff have been dismissed from North East Lincolnshire Council for misconduct.

No more details were released in the Anti-Fraud and Corruption report, which also revealed overpayments in benefits of more than £550,000.

Covering the last financial year, the report - the eighth of its kind - sets out the council's policy on dealing with those who try to steal money, both from inside and outside of the organisation.

With responsibility for the investigation of Housing Benefit fraud transferring to the Department for Work and Pensions from November 2015, the Council has taken the opportunity to shift its focus to other areas of potential fraud , including council tax discounts and the blue badge scheme.

Between April 2015 and March 2016, enforcement action has included:

  • Initial investigations into Council Tax discount fraud identifying 13 cases of fraud or error from 23 completed investigations, resulting in on-going liabilities being increased by a total of £3,888.19 (from November 2 2015 to March 9 2016). Investigations also increased past Council Tax liabilities by a total of £18,149.64 increasing the amount of Council Tax the Council is able to collect.
  • A Council Tax investigation established that the owner of a property had evaded Council Tax for the property he had lived in since it was purchased, by claiming he rented it to someone else who claimed Council Tax Support to pay the liability. Investigation established that the owner had never left the property and therefore, they received a bill for over £12,000 in unpaid council tax. In addition, the Council stopped paying Council Tax Support to his tenant.
  • Another Council Tax investigation into the circumstances surrounding an individual's claim that he lived on his own has resulted in him receiving a bill for more than £3,000 in Council Tax. The individual claimed that he had lived alone and as such was entitled to the 25 per cent reduction on their Council Tax bill. The investigation established that the individual had been living with his partner for more than 11 years but had never declared this to the Council.
  • Investigation of Housing Benefit fraud and Council Tax Reduction Scheme fraud resulting in the successful prosecution of 29 individuals (including 14 joint prosecutions with the DWP) up to November 2.
  • Additionally, a further 12 individuals were offered and accepted either an Administrative Penalty or a Simple Caution as an alternative to prosecution;
  • Uncovering £236,283.10 of overpaid benefit (including DWP benefits) from the 41 investigations referred to above;
  • Benefit fraud investigation also uncovering a further £320,133.23 of overpaid benefits (including benefits administered by DWP) where no prosecution or sanction was sought up to November 2. Action is taken in all cases to recover these losses, either through deductions from benefit, or through the Council's debt recovery strategy.
  • Initial investigations into Council Tax discount fraud identifying 13 cases of fraud or error from 23 completed investigations, resulting in liabilities being increased by a total of £3,888.19 (to March 9). Investigations have also increased past Council Tax liabilities by a total of £18,149.64.

The outcome of one case has led to a policy regarding Blue Badge enforcement being drafted by the Council.


11 Jul 2016

Data matching cuts fraud in N Ireland

Almost £33 million of actual and potential fraud has been stopped in Northern Ireland by comparing official records, the audit office said.

Housing benefit, pensions and rates evaders were among the main culprits caught by matching data from different organisations. They included cases where the Housing Executive was paying benefits to a sole occupier, unaware that another person was living there and registered at that address with another government body.

One person lived with a partner at a property but failed to tell housing authorities and netted an extra £57,000 over five years, according to a report on the National Fraud Initiative (NFI). Another did not declare a pension or a partner and fraudulently earned an extra £33,000 in benefits.

One offender worked for a public sector organisation while claiming housing benefit and jobseeker's allowance over six years. Another was receiving housing payments for two properties but left one of them in 2010.

Auditor general Kieran Donnelly said: "Fraud impacts on the level of funding available for frontline services, so fighting fraud must remain a key element in ensuring that limited public funds for the provision of goods and services are maximised. "Fraud affects us all and we all pay the price."

He said the NFI had detected fraud to the value of almost £33 million. The major checking procedure has been run four times and the money recovered represents current and past wrongdoing stopped and potential future crime averted.

Between April 2014 and March 2016 more than £3.1 million of fraud and error was detected through data matching.

Housing benefit fraud and overpayment amounted to more than £1.2 million. Suspected fraud, error and overpayment of pensions was worth more that £1.4 million.

More than 60 cases of rates evasion valued above £330,000 were detected.

There were more than 4,000 matches between blue badges, which entitle the disabled to use parking spaces for free, and death records, usually meaning the document was not returned after the holder had died and could be used fraudulently.

Similarly, there were almost 2,500 matches between concessionary travel pass holder records and death records.


8 Jul 2016

Benefits thief mother gets away with it

A lying mum who fraudulently claimed more than £150,000 in benefits has escaped jail – because she has TWELVE children.

Irresponsible Melanie Edwards, aged 40, claimed she was a single mum living alone with her kids. But she was still with husband Brian and they were both working at a factory – and they carried on having children.

Edwards added four kids to her family during the five years she pocketed about £154,000 by benefit fraud, Plymouth Crown Court heard. Her youngest is 22 months old.

Edwards and her husband Brian promptly drove away from the courtroom ignoring that question repeated by The Herald's reporter.

The court heard that she is paying back the money in reductions from her legitimate continuing benefits. It is not known how many years it will take to get close to repaying the cash.

Edwards, of Lamerton near Tavistock, admitted three counts of benefit fraud by failing to disclose she was living with her working husband between 2009 and 2014. She pocketed £144,113 in tax credits; £9,606 in housing benefits and £988.47 council tax relief.

Francesca Whebell, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said Edwards claimed benefits as a single mum. She added that the claim was genuine at first but husband Brian moved back in. Miss Whebell said they were both working alternate shifts at Kensey Foods at Launceston, though it is thought she has since given up work.

William Parkhill, for Edwards, said the amount she pocketed was "almost breathtaking". He added that her children ranged from adults to the youngest at 22 months old.

Judge Darlow asked: "Why just not have fewer children?" Mr Parkhill admitted: "That would be an option." But he added that jail would have an impact on the children – with four of them aged under five.

Mr Parkhill said: "She now faces an awkward conversation with her 12 children to explain what she has done." He added that the family did not live a "life of luxury" but instead shared a three-bedroom house. The lawyer said that ironically she would have been entitled to claim high sums legitimately even if she had been truthful in her claims.

Mr Parkhill said Mr Edwards worked three days a week, but was hoping to increase that to four.

Suspending her prison sentence, Judge Paul Darlow told her:
It is only your children who have kept this sentence from being immediate.
One has to wonder why you have so many children when you cannot support them without the state.
Because she can. Because the enforcement authorities don't seem to have thought it worth while taking a look at a woman who claimed to be a single parent but who was accumulating children at a rate of knots.

And because people like you, judge, don't punish her.

7 Jul 2016

Mother jailed for right to buy fraud

A woman has been jailed for 20 months after pleading guilty to subletting her council property and providing false information in order to purchase it under the Right to Buy scheme.

However Council officers have yet to confiscate the fraudulently obtained discount as well as the income from subletting the property. Moshoodat Oladejo, or Oshodi, pleaded guilty to both charges at Wood Green Crown Court and was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment.

Barking and Dagenham Council Officers discovered that she had sublet her one bedroom flat in Keir Hardie Way, Barking, after she had bought the property under the Government Right to Buy scheme.

Oladejo was found to have sublet the council property while living with her husband and children at an address in Dagenham, owned by her husband, a fact that she concealed when applying to buy it.

As a result she was able to buy the property at a discounted rate of £47,000 and continue to sublet it for financial gain.

Councillor Dominic Twomey, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance said: “We will not tolerate housing cheats in Barking and Dagenham. Council properties are precious and there for decent law-abiding people, not for greedy fraudsters. I can assure residents we will be remorseless in our pursuit of them to make sure council homes go to those who have the right to live in one.”

According to Barking and Dagenham Council this is one of several cases against tenants suspected of committing fraud, currently being prosecuted.


6 Jul 2016

Benefit cheat took £39k after claiming to be single mum

A benefit cheat who swindled the taxpayer out of almost £40,000 by repeatedly claiming she was a single parent living alone has been spared jail.

Bolton Crown Court heard that Carly Howarth initially made a legitimate claim for tax credits as a single mum, but then, in October 2012 she failed to disclose that she was living with her partner.

Chloe Fordham, prosecuting, said 27-year-old Howarth filled in a form again claiming she was not part of a couple and repeated the assertion in three phone conversations with the authorities. Her deception, failing to reveal she was living with Scott Burns, continued until July last year and meant she was paid a total of £39,232.41 she was not entitled to.

Howarth, from Ainsworth, pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to disclose information.

Mark Friend, defending, said Howarth, who has children aged 10 and three, had not been dishonest from the outset, is remorseful and accepts she will have to repay the money. He added that she is in rent arrears on her shared ownership home, which will probably have to be sold and stressed that the payments wrongly made to her were not spent on a lavish lifestyle. “She is a hard-working, socially responsible, decent young woman in every other respect,” he said.

Sentencing her to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months, Judge Elliot Knopf told her: “There are strict rules to ensure to ensure they [benefits] go to people who qualify for these benefits. It is not a bottomless purse. It is crucial that people understand that if they are tempted to break the rules, as you were, they will be taken to court. There is no getting away from it – you knowingly and repeatedly made false statements to the authorities.”

In addition to the suspended prison sentence Howarth was told she must undertake 120 hours unpaid work and complete a rehabilitation activity programme. A proceeds of crime hearing will take place in court on October 26 in an attempt to reclaim the money from Howarth.


5 Jul 2016

Unpaid work for £14k benefit thief

A Dudley woman who claimed nearly £15,000 in disability benefits while working as a carer has avoided jail.

Initially, the benefit claim made by Pamela Green was legitimate - she said she was barely able to walk and needed support to get in and out of the bath and complete her daily chores.

But she failed to notify the Department of Work and Pensions when there was an improvement in her condition and over a four year period the 47-year-old pocketed £14,749. She was rumbled when information was sent to the department reporting that she was working in the care industry, giving assistance to other people with disability troubles.

Charles Hamer, prosecuting, said the company who employed her thought she was a "good, hard working" member of the team and her work was "obviously of a physical nature". He told Wolverhampton Crown Court the company were completely unaware that she had difficulties dealing with the work.

Green admitted failing to notify the department of a change in her circumstances and she was placed on supervision for two years Judge Amjad Nawaz told her she must complete 200 hours unpaid work in the community and pay £250 court costs.

Green, who was not represented in court by a barrister, said she had pressing financial problems at the time adding: "I know I should have told them things had changed."

The judge said Green, a woman of previous good character, had abused the benefits system with her dishonesty and she should have revealed she had started work.


1 Jul 2016

Suspended sentence for £46k benefit fraud mother

A benefits cheat claiming to be a single mother was caught out when investigators found a stash of items belonging to her partner at her home.

Kelly Hinnighan’s boyfriend’s football trophies and photographs were on display along with children’s pictures on the fridge with the message “hello daddy”.

The Middlesbrough mum-of-four illegally pocketed more than £46,000 in benefits between 2011 and last year, Teesside Crown Court was told yesterday.

Her solicitor, John Nixon, said her relationship was unconventional and she often did not receive support from her partner, who worked away from home. Mr Nixon told the judge, Recorder David Dobbin: “There’s no question this claim was made to support a luxurious lifestyle which is always an aggravating feature. It occurred at a time when she had to give up work, with possibly not the best support. The claim for Tax Credits was not fraudulent from the outset.”

Hinnighan, 39, from Middlesbrough, pleaded guilty to three charges of failing to notify the authorities of a change in her circumstances.

She wept with relief as she was given a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for a year, with Probation Service supervision for 12 months.

Mr Recorder Dobbin told her: “It was a very substantial sum of money, and the offending is over a substantial period, and it crosses the custody threshold. However, I have to take into account your overall position, you pleaded guilty at he first opportunity and you are a lady who has four children. You have a part-time job, and in addition to that you are making efforts to pay off the amount that you had wrongly received. If you continue in work, you will be able to increase the regular amounts and get rid of that debt sooner.”

Prosecutor Liam O’Brien told the court that the fraud was discovered in March last year, when a search of the home showed Hinnighan’s partner was living with her.

She initially denied being dishonest and told investigators the man - with whom she has two children - was her landlord.

So she didn't own up at the first opportunity after all. And she felt she could afford four children.


29 Jun 2016

Former council worker jailed for social housing fraud

A former housing officer at Birmingham City Council has been sentenced to three years in prison for committing fraud against her employer.

An internal audit investigation by the council back in 2014 had found Ms Danyaal had submitted six fraudulent homeless applications using fabricated identities and personal information. She was later dismissed from her job role.

Zara Danyaal was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 30 months for one count of social housing fraud and six months for two offences relating to job references.

Cllr Peter Griffiths, the council’s cabinet member for housing and homes, said:
Danyaal committed an act of fraud and in so doing also prevented several families from being housed. Birmingham City Council has been proactive from the start in pursuing and bringing the perpetrators of this fraud to justice.

Furthermore, all the properties obtained by the deception have now been recovered so that they can be let to citizens who are in genuine need of social housing.
Her sister, Samara Malik, was also jailed for ten months relating to a offence of social housing fraud.