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22 May 2018

Benefit cheat who stole more than £1,600 handed 16-week curfew

A benefit cheat has been sentenced to a 16-week curfew after stealing more than £1,600 from Warrington Borough Council.

Emma Peacey appeared at Warrington Magistrates' Court, where she pleaded guilty to dishonestly claiming council tax support.

The 37-year-old committed the offence on September 12, 2013, when she stated she was a single parent – a statement that was untrue as at that time she was married and living with husband Lee Peacey.

The council tax support overpayment raised for this offence amounted to £1,627.69.

Peacey had originally been offered a financial penalty for committing the offence as an alternative to being prosecuted and gaining a criminal record.

She accepted this, however failed to pay the penalty although being given several opportunities and clearly being told the consequences of non-payment.

The magistrates sentenced Peacey to a curfew from the hours of 9pm to 6am for 16 weeks which started immediately.

She was also fined £85 victim surcharge, £500 in costs and ordered to repay the original overpayment in full.

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21 May 2018

Pensioner admits benefit frauds

A Southsea pensioner who fleeced the taxpayer out of more than £10,000 after committing benefit fraud for more than a decade has been spared jail.

Bernard Lee, 71, admitted three charges of making a false statement to obtain benefits with him pocketing cash he was not entitled to from council tax, pension credit and housing benefit.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard Lee had claimed for pension credits since 2006, despite having two occupational pensions.

He also claimed for housing benefit in the same year before receiving money for council tax from 2010. In total Lee, of previous good character, defrauded Portsmouth City Council out of £10,786.70 in overpayments he received during the period before he was caught, prosecutor Lucy Conroy said.

‘His first pension started before he made his first claim so it appears the fraud began at this time,’ Mrs Conroy said. ‘He has since made repayments of over £3,000 with more than £7,000 remaining.’

Judge Robert Hill sentenced Lee to three months in prison but suspended the term for one year. He said: ‘You were dishonestly claiming benefit for what you were not entitled to and you failed to disclose your pensions. You said you were only aware of making a false claim when it was pointed out to you. This was serious because it went on for a number of years, though the earnings were quite modest. You have started to pay some of it back after being caught, but there remains money which is still outstanding.’

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18 May 2018

Probation officer admitted benefit fraud

A probation officer pocketed more than £7,000 in benefits after failing to tell authorities that she was in work.

Tara Gale, 38, wrongly claimed Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit for a year by not declaring she was in paid employment.

Judge Neil Bidder QC warned her she could go to prison for her offending.

Cardiff Crown Court heard she committed benefit fraud between February 2015 and February 2016.

Nuhu Gobir, prosecuting, said she dishonestly intended to make a gain for herself by failing to disclose her circumstances.

The court heard she applied to the DWP in February 2015 for Employment and Support Allowance. Prosecutors said that claim was made on the basis she was unable to work due to ill health, single and had no income or savings. They argued it was fraudulent from the outset.

Mr Gobir said: “Her claim was assessed and authorised.”

He told the court information “came to light” suggesting she was working as a probation officer when she made the initial claim. An investigation began and she was interviewed under caution.

Prosecutors said she was “surprised” when investigators suggested she was in work while claiming benefits.

Gale stated she had not done it intentionally and told them she had problems with her memory. She said in court she was temping at the time of the initial application.

The court heard she fraudulently claimed a total of £7,351.70 from the DWP and Bridgend council.

Prosecutors said she had no previous convictions, but a caution for shoplifting in 2016.

Mr Gobir requested £1,200 towards prosecution costs.

Judge Bidder asked if any of the money had been paid back and he replied: “Not as far as the prosecution know.”

Gale, from Bridgend, pleaded not guilty to two counts of benefit fraud at a hearing in December last year, but changed her pleas in April.

The judge noted there was evidence she may have “underlying mental health problems”.

He said he would take the unusual step of deferring sentence for 20 weeks.

In that time, she must engage with mental health services and make arrangements with the DWP to make regular re-payments.

Judge Bidder said: “If she complies to the letter with these requirements, I would expect not to send her to prison immediately at the end of the deferment period. If she does not, she can expect to go to prison. It is as simple as that.”

She was granted bail until her next appearance on October 4.

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17 May 2018

Immigrant took council flat when she owned a property

A self-confessed cheating council tenant who raked in £31,000 renting her private flat claims she will be made homeless - because she has to pay it all back.

The News caught up with Irina Serstena after she appeared before Peterborough Crown Court for the outcome of a Proceeds Of Crime Act application.

The 41-year-old, who is from Latvia, had been renting out a flat she owned while living in a coucil property in St Neots.

Serstena, who now lives in the flat she owns in Gabriel Court, Peterborough, was living in the council flat in Loves Way.

She pleaded guilty to two offences under the Fraud Act 2006 by applying for social housing when she already owned a property.

Huntingdonshire District Council’s Corporate Fraud Team discovered Serstena bought the flat 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 successfully and illegally bid for the Loves Way property, moving there in November 2011 while renting out the flat she owned for the last six years.

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.

She did her community service in a charity shop.

She told the News: "I was thinking at the hearing that no one listened to my story or even asked about it. What I have done is wrong and I feel terrible about that and I regret it but there is another side to the story.

"When I arrived in the UK after Latvia joined the EU in 2004 and I came to this country to seek a better life. To start with I did what they said with all the immigration rules and signed up for the working scheme and spent years before I could apply for the residents' permit.

"It took six years before I could get leave to remain. We were not allowed to ask for benefits or apply for a council property and i lived in shared houses and worked hard."

She said: "I was struggling and someone said the council would help and I applied to get on the waiting list. I was on it for five years and nothing happened. I did bid for several flats but didn't get them. I thought I'd never get one.

"I moved into a one bedroom maisonette and was working in a supermarket but after rent and bills, I had nothing left. I would have no money five days after I was paid and I asked the council for help but they said they couldn't help me.

"I moved in with friends and let the council know. The friends had to leave the flat and so did I and I told the council I was being made homeless. I asked again for help twice and they didn't help.

"Then I asked my mum for help. I had been sending money home to her in Latvia and she had saved it all up. She gave it back to me and that's when I put the deposit down on the flat in Peterborough.

"I forgot to notify the council and I really didn't think it mattered as it had never offered me a flat. The property I bought looked good at first but was in a bad state and I had to spend a lot fixing it up.

"Then out of the blue the council called me up and asked if I still needed a flat - I stupidly said yes I need it. So I moved into the St Neots property and started renting the Peterborough flat as I wasn't working and had no money.

"I thought I'd give up the council property when I can move into the Peterborough flat but had a tricky time with the tenants and the flat flooded and I had to wait for the insurance money to totally refurbish it and that's when the problem started because I was caught by the fraud team and taken to court.

"I now have to pay back £33,000 and will have to sell my flat to do it and then will probably be homeless and have to apply for another council flat.

"I am a taxi driver and work 60 hours a week but my last year's wage was £14,000.

"It wasn't my intention to cheat someone. To survive as a single person is tough. I can apologise but do not judge me or you will be judged because you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow and I cannot change what has happened."

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.

She said: "I have put the flat on the market as I have to pay back the £33,000 by October. If I don't sell the flat I don't know what I will do and my accountant says I may only have £5,000 left after selling the flat and paying the money back."

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.”

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16 May 2018

Council tax fraudsters in court

A benefit cheat spent hundreds a month on luxury hire cars while claiming council tax support - but now he has faced justice.

Jamie Lee Roberts, from Great Cambourne, appeared at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court last week (Thursday, May 10).

The 44-year-old was prosecuted after telling South Cambridgeshire District Council he earned around £20,000 less than he actually did while self-employed during the 2015/16 tax year, to obtain council tax support.

He also over-estimated his allowable expenditure. These two dishonest statements led to Roberts claiming more than £1,900 in Council Tax Support on the basis that he was in receipt of low income.

However, a benefits assessment officer discovered that Roberts was spending more than £800 a month on luxury hire vehicles, despite claiming this support.

Further investigations also revealed that Mr Roberts had holidayed abroad and concealed personal spending in undeclared bank accounts.

Due to the false statements made by Roberts, he claimed £1,922 in assistance from the authority which he was not entitled to.

Appearing in court, he pleaded guilty to a total of four offences and was fined £746. He must also pay back the full amount to the council, pay £455.55 to cover the authority’s costs and pay a victim surcharge of £50.

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In a separate case at the court, Kelly Myson, 28, was fraudulently claiming Council Tax support and single person discount on the basis that she was a single mother on a low income.

However, she did not tell South Cambridgeshire District Council that her partner, who was in paid employment, was also living at her address.

As a result, she falsely claimed reductions of £1,416 via Council Tax support between August 2016 and October 2017. Additionally, single person discount of £209 was also paid on the basis that Ms Myson was living as a single person.

The investigation that led to Ms Myson appearing in court began after she indicated to a district council department, separate to the benefits team, that her partner was living with her.

In court, she pleaded guilty and was fined £80. She must also pay £50 to cover the Council’s court costs, a victim surcharge of £30 and pay back the full amount owed.

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10 May 2018

Our wide open benefits system

A failed Algerian asylum seeker who used five fake identities to fraudulently claim £370,000 in benefits has been jailed for five years.

Saif Boudemagh, 41, used a forged French identity card to illegally enter the UK in March, 2000 but his asylum appeal failed.

Boudemagh continued to appeal and eventually obtained residency in 2004, two years after marrying UK citizen Paula Boudemagh.

The father-of-one, was given a one-bed council flat in Upper Holloway, London and immediately began claiming benefits once he received his National Insurance number.

He claimed to be the carer of his wife and since February, 2009 claimed Income Support as single-parent of their son, now aged fourteen years-old.

The bogus claimant who received full British citizenship in October, 2007 was convicted of twelve counts of fraud by a Blackfriars Crown Court jury totalling £370,000.

As well as his own bogus applications Boudemagh made up people and claimed benefits for them.

Between June, 2007 and April, 2015 he made multiple claims using fake French identities for Housing Benefit.

He used the same names to apply for council tax benefits, income support, carer's allowance, incapacity benefit, employment support allowance, (ESA) and disability living allowance, (DLA).

He pocketed £16,798 for looking after non-existent friend called Jamel Bensaid, 42, whose id was used to get a staggering £174,000 in various benefits.

Benefit claims were made in the name of Sidhamad Ayad, 39. This identity netted the con artist a £41,746 in employment support benefits after Boudemagh concocted a bogus tale this claimant needed a walking stick and toilet hand rails. Another £14,251 was paid out in disability living allowance for the same man and £22,519 was given in housing benefit.

He also used fake French identity documents to make benefit claims in name of Allel Zerabib, 44, and Taric Ziad, 45, and 'hijacked' the genuine identity of Frenchwoman Nadia Regad, 42.

The married mum-of-two was living in Paris, but her identity was used to claim £4,235 as a carer for 'Mr Zerabib' who received £25,000 in disability benefits. This bogus identity was also exploited to collect £46,000 in housing benefit and council tax benefit.

Boudemagh pocketed a further £14,626 in DLA using the Ziad identity.

The DWP paid benefits on the basis the claimants had depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, varicose veins, lower back pain and in one case a disabled finger.

He even used a disabled Freedom Pass in a false identity to enjoy free transport around the capital.

Boudemagh's flat was raided on April 7, 2015 and documents were found in the names of the false claimants as well as bank cards for accounts the money was paid into.

Boudemagh told the jury he was innocently completing benefit claim forms as an English-speaker for members of the close-knit north London Algerian community. But it was found the people did not exist.

The prosecution argued its case successfully, having the Algerian convicted on all but five counts.

Prosecutor Mr Andrew Evans said: 'A false French passport was also submitted as proof of identity in support of these claims and the photo on this passport is that of the defendant. His mobile phone number is given as the claimants' contact number.'

The conman's brother Redouane Boudemagh, 46, an illegal immigrant, receiving three years imprisonment for a £218,000 scam last year.

Shockingly, Boudemagh was still in receipt of housing benefit and child tax credits up to the day of his imprisonment, but he will not face confiscation proceedings because no assets have been found. The DWP say the only way they can recover any money is by making small deductions to any benefits he receives after his release.

'This defendant played a leading role in the offending, involving at least one other,' said Mr. Evans. 'It was a sophisticated offence requiring planning and the hijacking of identities to claims benefits and completion of medical evidence.'

Judge Jane Sullivan told him last week: 'It cannot be said you showed remorse. You fought the case in the face of overwhelming evidence.'

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Deportation should beckon. But probably won't.

7 May 2018

German family benefits in disarray

More than €100 million in child benefits is claimed fraudulently by European Union migrants in Germany, almost a third of the total it pays to foreign children who do not live there.

An investigation by the Welt Am Sonntag found that organised crime gangs targeted migrants from southeastern Europe and supplied them with fake birth or school certificates for non-existent children.

EU rules require governments to pay benefits at the full rate to children living in countries, such as Romania, where living costs are far lower, creating an incentive for fraudsters.

The payment of the full rate of €192 a month to EU migrants’ children in their home countries is controversial in Germany, but the EU has blocked attempts to cut the payments in line with standards in the countries where the children live.

Karsten Bunk, director of the child benefit fund, told the newspaper: “The reason that this type of crime is so widespread is the full freedom of movement that came with the eastward expansion of the EU.”

In total, 215,499 children not living in Germany received the benefits, paid to a parent, last year at a cost of €343 million. Up to 72,000 of these claims are thought to have been false. The money gained fraudulently is often paid not to the benefit applicants but to criminal gangs.

Katja Suding, deputy leader of the opposition Free Democratic Party, has called on the government to tackle fraud by streamlining 150 family benefits that are paid by different agencies.

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5 May 2018

Welsh authority considers fraud strategy

A person claiming their dead parent's pension was one of 500 cases of suspected fraud referred to Rhondda Cynon Taf council in the last financial year.

A total of 565 referrals were made to the authority's corporate fraud team in 2017-2018, of which 244 were made online.

Members of the audit committee were told that council tax and housing benefit fraud are the largest types of fraud that the council is facing.

More than 99% of potential fraud reported to the council is in relation to housing benefit and council tax.

The top referral reason relates to inappropriate receipt of benefits by not declaring that people are living together.

Two specific examples of corporate fraud were given which included one person inappropriately claiming their deceased parent's local government pension. That person was interviewed and cautioned and an agreement was reached to repay the £780 in full.

The other example given was a person fraudulently claiming the 25% single person council tax discount. Discounts of £1,841.22 were removed and attempts are now underway to recover the money.

The Anti-Fraud, Bribery and Corruption Plan 2018-19 states that it "will ensure the council continues to operate within an effective anti-fraud culture across the organisation, with resilient preventive measures capable of identifying and addressing new threats".

Some of the measures taken by the council towards its zero tolerance approach to fraud include the setting up of a hub on both the internet site and council's intranet set for the collation of fraud referrals from all potential sources.

They've also signed up to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau where good practice and activity is shared and they've developed a draft fraud awareness council payslip awareness insert for inclusion in all May 2018 payslips as well as working with the Department for Work and Pensions in investigating benefit and council tax fraud.

Councillor Michael Powell, Liberal Democrat, said there comes a time when they have to ask themselves when does the council "keep flogging a dead horse" in terms of recovering money. The council's current council tax collection rate is at 97.5% but Cllr Powell said the 2.5% is still a "substantial amount of money."

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4 May 2018

Pensioner admits old benefit fraud offences

A pensioner who admitted receiving over £16,000 in benefits to which he was not entitled is to be sentenced at Mold Crown Court.

Terence Rhodes, 69, from Prestatyn, who appeared at Llandudno magistrates’ court, pleaded guilty to nine charges of obtaining council tax benefit by fraud, having failed to disclose that he was receiving a pension.

The offences occurred between 1999 and 2008. He also admitted one offence of claiming pension credit to which he was not entitled.

Prosecutor Rhian Jackson told the court that North Wales Police were conducting a Proceeds of Crime investigation into Rhodes’ affairs.

Rhodes was bailed to appear in Crown Court on May 24, and the magistrates ordered a pre-sentence report.

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2 May 2018

Mother admits fraudulently claiming nearly £13k in benefits

A Glenrothes woman has pled guilty to fraudulently claiming almost £13,000 in benefits.

Kelly Young appeared at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court where she admitted two charges of stealing tax credits and housing benefit.

The 25-year-old admitted falsely claiming £9194 in tax credits from HMRC after stating she lived alone between March 20 2015 and October 5 2016.

The young mother was, in fact, living with her partner Martyn Stewart, who was in paid employment during the 15 month period.

The court also heard how the fraudster falsely claimed £3772 in housing benefit from Fife Council.

The charge stated she failed to promptly notify the prescribed person in a timely manner to a change in her circumstances which affected her entitlement.

Young spoke only to confirm her guilty plea to Sheriff Pino Di Emidio.

She was ordered to undergo various reports and will be accessed to see if she is suitable for a Restriction of Liberty order.

The first-offender was told to return to court on May 17 when she will be sentenced.

Sheriff Di Emidio said: “I’m going to call for a Criminal Justice Social Work report. As you appear in front of me as a first offender, it would is very important that you cooperate with these reports. Once these reports have been done, I will decided how to deal with this matter.”

Young was originally charged with fraudulently claiming more than £26,000 in both housing and tax credits.

She initially pled not guilty to the two charges at previous hearings.

But she yesterday admitted the amended charges which state that she claimed £12,966 in benefits to which she was not entitled.

The dates in between which she was alleged to have stolen the benefits were also changed.

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