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10 Dec 2016

Editorial: National benefit fraud totals

The DWP says 5,000 people were prosecuted last year for benefit fraud and 6,000 'administrative penalties' were imposed.

This is without trying very hard. The aim of benefit fraud policing is to deter offenders and save a bit of money, but mainly to keep a political lid on the issue of benefit fraud. It is not being ignored, because that would bring protests.

But equally it is not being actively addressed. If the government really wanted to attack benefit fraud, it would blitz an area and see how much money could be saved, starting by checking databases and getting leads from local government employees. Publicising the blitz beforehand would probably result in some benefit claims being, um, discontinued.

But it's not about saving money, it's about keeping the political lid on the issue. So widespread, understated benefit fraud will continue.

9 Dec 2016

NFI offers pro-active anti-fraud tools

Fraud is a blight that will affect every organisation at some point. Where ever there is money, there will be fraudsters. According to some estimates, the combined annual loss to central and local government resulting from fraudulent practices - ranging from tax evasion to benefit scams - is between £20bn and £49bn. This is bad at the best of times, but it is worse when the public purse is already strained.

One of the Government’s primary weapons for stamping out fraudulent behaviour is the National Fraud Initiative (NFI). This is an exercise that matches an extensive range of electronic data from 1,300 public and private sector bodies in order to identify anomalies that might indicate fraud. When an anomaly is uncovered, the NFI works with the stakeholders involved to try and weed out any wrong-doing.

As Darren Shillington, senior data matching manager at the NFI, explains, they look at things ‘such as a housing benefit claimant who has payroll income they’ve not declared, a social housing tenant who may be subletting their property and is actually living elsewhere, right through to things like a pension being paid to a person who’s passed away.’

Since the NFI was initiated in the mid-1990s, it has enabled participants to identify fraud and overpayments totalling in excess of £1.39bn - a not inconsiderable sum. However, they are now taking it further. The Government wishes to take the data used for fraud detection and utilise it in what Mr Shillington describes as a more ‘proactive, preventative way.’

This was the message the NFI’s 2016 National Report conveyed to local authorities. Detecting fraud is important, but preventing it from entering the system in the first place makes more sense. ‘Two or three years ago the NFI was very much a detection model,’ Mr Shillington explains, ‘and now it’s got much more upfront preventative and flexible solutions.’

In order to help develop these solutions, the NFI has teamed up with Synectics Solutions, a company that specialises in building complex data management and software products. ‘Synectics is the contracted IT provider but it’s more than that; it’s a partnership that brings together Synectics’ expertise and their experience from the financial sector,’ says Mr Shillington.

Together they produced AppCheck. This is a digital tool which enables local authorities to check the legitimacy of an application in real time. When someone applies for, say, housing benefit, the council will be able to access the NFI’s data immediately to look for anomalies. This means they can prevent fraudulent claims at the point of application rather than spending time and effort chasing it down later.

Trial results appear to be promising. The City of London Corporation’s anti-fraud and investigation team joined with their housing allocations team to see how effective AppCheck would be at tackling social housing fraud. The product enabled the Corporation to identify over £180,000 worth of fraud during the trial period and they found it easy to integrate with their existing processes.

‘The trial of the AppCheck solution was a great success that proved itself very early on by allowing us to identify fraud that would have otherwise potentially not been detected,’ says the Corporation’s anti-fraud manager, Chris Keesing. AppCheck has now been rolled out as part of the team’s operational processes, and the City of London is assessing other areas where it can be deployed - a relatively simple process because no IT or systems deployments are needed.

There is another advantage to using tools such as AppCheck beyond just fraud prevention. ‘The other big thing is about the fast tracking of the vulnerable individuals who make genuine applications,’ explains Louise Williams, Synectics Solutions’ product manager. ‘The fact that we can verify that particular application a lot quicker to give those reference points to say this individual is who they say they are, they are entitled to this particular service or benefit.’

Just as a local authority using AppCheck would be able to use NFI data to weed out fraudsters, they would also be able to verify legitimate applications quickly. As Ms Williams puts it, this ‘helps local authorities to put their resources in the right places and manage those applications faster and more efficiently.’

Preventing fraud at the point of application is, then, beneficial on two fronts. You save by stopping illegitimate claims and you save by expediting legitimate applications. It is, effectively, win-win.

Source

8 Dec 2016

Another benefit thief outs herself on facebook

A mum who scrounged thousands in handouts by claiming she was a single parent was unmasked as a benefits cheat after pictures of her lesbian wedding were posted on Facebook.

Kerry Hope, 40, had received income support and housing benefit while telling the authorities she was living alone and had no other income. But unbeknown to Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Hope had tied the knot with her 28-year-old lover Leanne Lambert, and was living with her.

Photos later emerged on social media of the happy couple getting hitched at Blackpool’s Wedding Chapel before posing outside the seaside resort’s iconic tower. Mum-of-four Hope was snapped in a white wedding dressed while her partner wore a grey waistcoat, matching trousers and a red tie to match her red spikey hair-do.

Investigators looking into her claim following a tip off found the damning images of the August 2015 ceremony during their inquiries. They even spotted some snaps being re-posted as part of their 1st year “paper” wedding anniversary.

At Burnley magistrates court, Hope who is now Kerry Hope-Lambert, sobbed as she pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions of a change in circumstances between June 17, 2014 and September 17, 2015. Additionally she copped to dishonestly failing to notify Pendle Borough Council of a change in circumstances between June 23, 2014 and September 13, 2015.

Prosecutor Philippa White told the hearing the total amount overpaid to Hope- Lambert was £8,065.01. The scrounger claimed income support from 2007 and it was paid to her on the basis she was a lone parent living with four kids in Nelson with no other form of income.

Mrs White said: “Payments were made directly into her Post Office account and were paid on the basis she was to report any changes in her circumstances to the Department for Work and Pensions and Pendle Borough Council. Both paid these benefits on the basis of that proviso, that a change in her circumstances should be notified. It became apparent she failed to declare she was maintaining a common household with her partner Leanne Hope-Lambert. Leanne Hope-Lambert was in a position to support the family financially.”

The prosecutor added that the defendant was interviewed under caution on October 14 last year, where she agreed she had withdrawn her income support claim because she had got married in August 2015.

Mrs White went on: “She also agreed she had told the Department for Work and Pensions her partner didn’t move into the house until September 2015. However, evidence was put to her regarding bank accounts which demonstrated financial links between the couple before the date of their marriage.”

The prosecutor said other evidence also linked the pair to the same address.

She told the court : “It was at this point that Miss Hope-Lambert admitted her partner had been living in her home and they had been maintaining a common household from June 2014. Her partner had relinquished her previous tenancy around that time.”

Mrs White continued: “She agreed the claim had been dishonest and that she had failed to report a change in circumstances for financial reasons. It wasn’t a fraud from the outset. She had a valid claim until the period of her partner moving in. She has nothing of a similar nature on her record. The defendant has only one previous conviction, for criminal damage three years ago.”

Hope-Lambert, who represented herself, told the bench she didn’t want to say anything about the offences.

She was given a two month curfew, between 7pm and 7am, seven days a week.

The bench made no order for costs because of her means but she must pay an £85 victim surcharge out of her benefits. (!)

The chairwoman said the defendant had no relevant convictions and the justices felt a medium community penalty was the correct one.

Source with pictures

7 Dec 2016

Benefit fraud in Sussex

A woman has been ordered to undertake 80 hours of community work after falsely claiming more than £18,000 in benefits, despite having savings.

Heather Clinch initially claimed housing benefit and council tax benefit from Arun District Council while living in Arundel.

In 2014 the 53-year-old moved to Fittleworth and claimed housing benefit from Chichester District Council. Her reasons for claiming the benefits were because she had a low household income and no savings.

An investigation by Chichester District Council found that during the period of the benefit claims she had savings of more than £16,000. These had not been declared to either council. She would not have been entitled to the benefit if she had declared these savings.

She was overpaid £12,195.60 in Housing Benefit by Arun District Council from 14 March 2011 to 26 January 2014. She received £757.12 in Council Tax Benefit by Arun District Council from 14 March 2011 to 11 November 2012. She gained £5,263.56 Housing Benefit by Chichester District Council from 23 January 2014 to 30 August 2015.

The prosecution was brought by the Department for Work and Pensions. Ms Clinch pleaded not guilty to three charges of dishonestly obtaining benefit. Following a trial she was found guilty of all charges.

The court ordered her to complete 80 hours of unpaid work over 12 months. She was also ordered to pay £770 in court costs plus a victim surcharge of £85.

Source

These people do it for the money. So hit them in the pocket. It was money that motivated them, and a financial penalty will help to deter them.

People who conceal savings should have to repay twice what they stole.

6 Dec 2016

Benefit fraud in Northern Ireland

The cost of fraud in Northern Ireland's benefits system has reached its highest level for more than a decade. Taxpayers shelled out £45m in the last year to cover payments drawn illegally - around £800,000 every week.

The bill for fraudulent claims has climbed to an 11-year high, auditors said. An investigation found "significant levels of estimated fraud and error" in housing benefit claims.

The shocking details are revealed in a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office. It reports on the results of financial audit work undertaken on the 2015-16 accounts of Government departments and other public sector bodies. One of its most shocking findings concerns Northern Ireland's ballooning benefits bill.

The total expenditure on benefits in the 12 months to April was £5.8bn - a staggering £15.8m a day. That is up £100m from £5.7bn in the previous financial year.

On all benefits, except the State Pension, the former Department for Social Development estimated overpayments due to fraud and error of £75.3m. This has fallen from last year - mainly due to less money being lost through official error.

However, the amount lost through fraud has spiralled, Auditor General Kieran Donnelly warns.

His report states: "From an overall departmental point of view, the estimated levels of overpayments and underpayments due to fraud and error were 1.7% this year compared to 2% in 2014-15. Customer error and underpayments due to official error have fallen significantly. But the estimated levels of customer fraud in the benefit payments made by the Social Security Agency, Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and Land and Property Services (LPS) increased to £45.1m and is now at its highest level since 2004-05."

The NIHE was a particular concern, with "significant levels of estimated fraud and error in housing benefit expenditure" reported.

Robin Swann, who chairs Stormont's Public Accounts Committee, said worries over the extent of benefit fraud have been raised in a series of Audit Office reports.

"The auditor has been consistently concerned with benefits," he said. "We are in the middle of a whole reform of the benefits system at the minute, so it is how that actually works out to countering fraud. On benefit fraud the numbers are actually down on previous years, but the level of customer fraud has increased. The committee will get a briefing on this report at our first meeting back in January."

The report says: "Despite the initiatives used by SSA (Social Security Agency) to counteract fraud and error, the level of overpayments remained at 1% of total benefit expenditure, the same as in 2014 against a rise in annual benefit expenditure of 2.1%. SSA continues to face a significant challenge to administer a complex benefits system to a high degree of accuracy in a cost effective way. The level of estimated fraud and error remains significant - out of total benefit expenditure (other than State Pension) of £3bn, estimated over and under payments total £60.2m."

They don't go looking hard for it, because they don't want to find too much.

In terms of LPS, the report found total housing benefit expenditure administered by it in 2014/15 was £42.3m. "Within this, the levels of fraud and error estimated by DSD's Standards Assurance Unit amounts to £8.6m in 2014/15," Mr Donnelly's report says.

This is 20%!

"I also reported on the level of outstanding ratepayer debt at year end, and the amount written off in year. The ratepayer debt outstanding at March 31 2015 was £156.4m, compared to £162.1m at March 31 2014. The amount written off in 2014-15 was £25.3m compared to £31.6m in 2013-14."

The Department for Communities said it was committed to tackling fraud and error and would highlight its success during 2015 in reducing both loss and underpayments, due to benefit fraud and error, from the levels reported in 2014.

"Nonetheless, the department recognises fully that any level of loss, while at 1.4% of benefit expenditure, still represents a significant loss of public funds," it said. "The department is determined to ensure the focus and investment in driving high levels of accuracy and low levels of fraud continues and the integrity of the benefit system, designed to help those in need, is protected."

Source

29 Nov 2016

Bedford tenancy cheat ordered to pay £35,000

Omid Hashemi, of Alamein Avenue, Bedford, has been ordered to pay back almost £35,000 after being prosecuted for lying to obtain low cost social housing. Hashemi was also sentenced to a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

Hashemi was housed in social housing by bpha after claiming that he, his wife and his younger brother were living in overcrowded conditions.

However an investigation revealed that Hashemi owned a three bedroom house, purchased just three months before applying for housing, which he rented out for profit.

Hashemi, was prosecuted at Luton Crown Court where he pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud by false representation and was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years.

Following the conviction, joint working by Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire Council enabled an application to be made to seize Hashemi’s assets. The court heard evidence that Hashemi benefited from his crime and ordered him to pay almost £35,000, which represented all of his available assets. The amount must be paid within three months or Hashemi will face nine months in prison.

Councillor Michael Headley, said: “There are families across the Borough who genuinely need a place to call home and those who commit tenancy fraud take these homes from those most in need. As well as disadvantaging other members of our community, tenancy fraud also increases pressure on other services at a time when Bedford Borough Council faces continued cuts in funding.”

Source

Note: The kicker punishment came not in the suspended sentence but in the order to repay £35,000.

24 Nov 2016

Poor legal process in sub-letting case

A council tenant in Kensal Rise has been ordered to pay back almost £10,000 and has placed under a curfew for illegally subletting his flat.

Harry Lambert rented out the one-bedroom property on the open market for three years while he lived at another address in Willesden.

The 38-year-old was caught when his tenants allowed a gas engineer carrying out works on behalf of Brent Housing Partnership into the flat and an investigation was launched.

Last week he admitted dishonestly sub-letting his council property under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 and was sentenced to a 12-week curfew between 12 noon and 12 midnight each weekend.

A very light punishment for an offence carried on over three years.

An unlawful profit order totalling £9,276 was made which he must pay back to the council and also pay the costs of bringing the case to court.

Civil action is now underway to evict him so that the property can be returned back to Brent Council.

So not only a light sentence, a clunky legal process.

Cllr Harbi Farah, Brent Council’s cabinet member for housing, said:

“Brent Council is absolutely committed to tackling housing fraud. With council properties in such high demand, it is completely unacceptable that some individuals are trying to break the law for personal gain. This successful prosecution of a council tenant who illegally sublet his home to private tenants - shows how seriously we take these offences.”

Source

23 Nov 2016

CCTV helps Sandwell prove sub-letting

Fraudsters who were sub-letting Sandwell Council houses have been caught out - saving the authority up to £400,000.

Officers in the council’s CCTV control room together with its counter fraud team have recently recovered four properties which were being fraudulently sub-let.

Each council property recovered from fraudsters is an estimated saving to the local authority of £93,000.

Councillor Steve Eling, Sandwell Council leader, said:
We have had four cases recently where the CCTV images provided by our control room have been invaluable in helping to prove the fraud. Sub-letting our properties is not only illegal but it also prevents families from being housed legitimately.
The joint effort between Sandwell’s CCTV control room and the counter fraud team has seen properties go back into legitimate use - offering up significant savings to the council.

In three instances, CCTV footage showed properties being used by people other than the tenant and in the fourth, images showed a tenant living at a different property resulting in benefit fraud over-payments.

Savings for the council are determined following a report called Protecting the Public Purse 2015.

The Cabinet Office looked into the costs to local authorities including people on waiting lists, in temporary accommodation, fraudulent benefits claims, legal costs to evict people and it was estimated the overall saving for each property recovered was on average £93,000.

All four of the recent tenancies were ended and the individuals involved are unlikely to be housed by the council again.

Source

No word or prosecutions or compensation orders?

18 Nov 2016

Hardened criminal couple exploited benefits system

A former NHS nurse and her husband have been jailed after stealing their neighbours’ identities to scrounge over £30,000 of benefit handouts – which they frittered away on partying.

Amanda Heseltine, 34, and 45-year old Richard Connell collected their neighbours’ details while selling cleaning products door-to-door – then used the details to make fraudulent benefit claims.

The jobless pair collected income support, employment support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and social fund payments – as Heseltine exploited her knowledge of the UK welfare system, learned during her time working for the NHS, to help her husband rake in the cash.

Over a three year period, taxpayers’ cash was diverted into the pair’s bank accounts after they hijacked the personal details of 23 people.

Investigators discovered Heseltine – who used to work at Burnley General Hospital in Lancashire – and Connell had submitted benefits application forms using sick notes forged from genuine documents.

The couple, from Nelson, Lancashire, also made phone calls and sent correspondence posing as genuine claimants. All the people they canvassed on the doorstep insisted they had not handed over personal details.

At Burnley Crown Court Heseltine and Connell were both jailed for two years after each admitted 23 counts of fraud totalling £30,497.78 between April 2013 and March 2016.

But neither will have to pay any money back – because both of them claim to be broke.

They'll be back on benefits when they come out.

The couple – who have been together 16 years and have a string of convictions for dishonesty matters – had already been receiving handouts including housing benefit and employment support allowance.

Prosecutor Miss Amanda Johnson said the case involved the identity theft of 23 genuine claimants and added: “Their identities were hijacked by the defendants who used them to make fraudulent benefits claims for income support, employment support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and social fund payments. Applications forms were completed and submitted for different benefits by the defendants, along with doctored or forged medical certificates. They made phone calls posing as genuine customers and sent correspondence to the relevant departments. They operated a number of bank accounts into which payments were made.”

Miss Johnson added the victims all admitted they knew the couple ”personally or indirectly”, as Nelson is a small community.

She said: “All confirmed they had not handed over their details to these defendants or participated in this scheme. The defendants had the information by means of canvassing door-to-door, selling a product.”

The court heard Connell had 86 previous offences on his record whilst Heseltine had 15 offences.

Defence lawyer Richard Taylor said: ”They didn’t themselves go looking for an opportunity to commit these offences, that they were initially approached. They accept there was an illegal opportunity to make money and use their knowledge of the benefits system to make the relevant claims in a variety of ways. It would have been impossible for them to do that without detailed information from each person named in the charge sheet.

“They accept they are both equally involved over a three-year period and they kept 50 per cent of the of the monies obtained illegally. That’s why it was paid into different accounts over which the victims had no control. The sophistication appears to be their own knowledge of the benefits system. They had no trappings of luxury.”

Judge Mr Recorder Nick Clarke, QC, told the couple: ”You were both in receipt of benefits designed to be sufficient to meet all needs like heat, light, warmth and clothing. Unfortunately, you are hardened criminals, who seek to exploit whatever system you can to extract money in as many different ways as you can. You identified a vulnerability in the processes that you sought to exploit. You used your inside knowledge of the workings of the various schemes and everything else you knew about how claims can be made and how payments can be diverted to accounts over which you have control. You consistently and persistently made fraudulent claims – it was almost on a commercial scale.”

Last week in a ‘farewell’ Facebook post Heseltine said: ”Last weekend peeps for a while so its gonna be emotional but I wanna thank everyone who has and continues to be the rocks by my side. Keep shining my amazing family and lets try get through it smiling.

”I am so blessed to have you all but know that wherever I may be you are all kept in my heart and I am so thankful and proud of each of you look after each other. Im coming out tnite mite as well go out with a bang!!!! Need one last time with all my nearest just gonna paint on the smile and dance my ass off.”

Source with pictures

14 Nov 2016

Benefit fraud was just one of her scams

Dishonest Angel Jackson, 52, was labelled a “vain and self-important” crook with a “staggering contempt for the court” when she was locked up for seven years this week. (h/t Dave)

The professional fraudster, from Mitcham, south London, established a complex of web of lies to claim housing benefit, income support and compensation over 10 years between 2002 and 2012.

The scheming Ghanian bought two swanky flats complete with their own gym in Croydon, south London, each for £300,000 and fraudulently claimed housing benefit for each of them.

She was finally jailed for seven years at Croydon Crown Court after a jury found her guilty of some 32 charges relating to her twisted fraud campaign.

Judge Adam Hiddleston said: “You are a thoroughly dishonest person. You are a professional fraudster. It’s your life’s work. You have taken and taken and it would appear, you have never given anything back. How many school places or hospital beds could have been provided by the local authorities with the money you took? You created numerous personalities, changed your name, created false documentation, you have even deceived your own ex-husband, taking everything he had, including dignity.”

Jackson was so deceitful the prosecution admitted not knowing her real name for years.

Francesca Levett, prosecuting, told the jury greedy Jackson tried to wring every penny in compensation for two car accidents using invented passengers. She was only caught when doctors spotted two separate X-rays on two separate claims were almost identical.

The crook lied to local authorities and the Department of Work and Pensions for a decade to defraud a staggering £191,414.

Ms Levett added: “Far from being an honest claimant, who turned to the authorities because she was genuinely in need, she manipulated the system, told countless lies, hijacked identities and defrauded her way into becoming an affluent property owner without ever working a single day.”

When Jackson’s home was raided in September 2012, officers found £22,000 in £50 notes hidden in a wardrobe, reams of counterfeit paperwork and 12 mobile phones.

Jurors heard the 52-year-old liar lured her soon-to-be hubby Irish-born Thomas Duffy by telling him she was a “lady of traditional values”. They bought a house in August 2002 but Jackson went behind his back to obtain his UK residency to support her own. In July 2005, lowlife Jackson bought another house — a £150,000 flat in south London — in her husband’s name, without him knowing. She splurged another £152,000 on another flat in the same building just two months later. The court was told Jackson continued to lie to Mr Duffy, leaving him “confused, depressed and fragile” over a number of years.

The selfish fraudster rented out one of her flats to a couple in 2011 for £880-a-month but also claimed £600-a-month in housing benefits on the property, unbeknown to the tenants.

Jackson denied 32 fraud offences.

Source with pictures