1 May 2015

Couple jailed for £78k benefits fraud

A Moreton couple who made illegal claims for almost £80,000 over a six year period have been handed jail sentences following a joint prosecution by Cotswold District Council and the Department of Work and Pensions.

Karen Hardiman, 46, and Roger Cross, 39, appeared at Gloucester Crown Court and admitted a total of 10 charges of benefit fraud from 2006 to 2013. Cross also asked for five further charges to be taken into consideration.

After hearing the evidence, the judge sentenced Hardiman to 16 weeks in jail and awarded a longer prison sentence of 26 weeks to Cross because he had previous convictions for burglary.

Hardiman had qualified for benefits legitimately when living as a lone parent, but the situation changed when Cross moved into her home in 2006 and they didn’t declare that her circumstances had changed. For his part, Cross worked as a gardener but did not declare his income.

The pair had pleaded guilty as soon as it came to light that they had been making illegal claims for housing and council tax benefit, income support, jobseeker's allowance and employment and support allowance worth a total of £78,774. Even though there were mental health issues to consider in both cases, the judge was convinced that they had both deliberately sought to defraud the state and were fully aware of their actions.

The judge acknowledged that the couple had not indulged in lavish holidays but pointed out that they had, nevertheless, falsely obtained the equivalent of an extra £17,000 per year, some of which was used to fund Cross’s drug habit.

The couple have agreed to repay some of the money through deductions to future benefits.

Commenting after the verdict, Cotswold District Council’s Director of Corporate Resources, Frank Wilson, said:
The benefits system is a safety net for people who are in need of financial support when they cannot make ends meet. That’s why it is always so galling to hear about people who knowingly try to get more than their fair share through deceitful means.

I am very grateful to the officer at the council who played a major role in uncovering this particular fraud and bringing the perpetrators to justice. This type of work is vital to help safeguard our public finances and ensure that benefits are awarded to those who really need them.
Source

30 Apr 2015

Woman rented out council property

A woman has been fined a total of £4,533 for benefit fraud and illegally renting out her council property while she lived 200 miles away in Lancashire.

Not enough.

Roshan Adams moved to Ormskirk, Lancashire, and sub-let a council property in Hermon Hill, Wanstead, on two occasions to two different sets of tenants.

She also claimed housing benefit for the property and did not notify the council that she had moved away.

The offence came to light when council staff made a routine visit to the property and discovered correspondence addressed to the flat in the communal area of the property in different names.

The 36-year-old was found guilty of failing to notify the council of a change in her circumstances affecting her entitlement to housing benefit and for sub-letting her council house, at Barkingside Magistrates Court on April 17.

Adams must pay a £110 fine, £20 Victim Surcharge, £370 costs, a £1,089 unlawful profit order for the first sub-let and £2,944 for the second sub-let.

Redbridge council said it strongly encourages residents to anonymously report housing fraud.

Source

And we want the flat back, so that it can be given to someone who genuinely needs it.

29 Apr 2015

Bedford reports on welfare frauds

A record number of fraudsters targeting Bedford Borough Council have been prosecuted or cautioned in the past year.

Between 2014 and 2015, the council’s Fraud Investigations team successfully took action against 142 offenders - the highest number uncovered in Bedford Borough in a single year.

These cases resulted in the issue of 31 prosecutions, 62 cautions and 48 financial penalties.

A council spokeswoman said the more notable cases included the following;

- 16 months imprisonment for a man who stole more than £138,000 in benefits from the council and the Department for Work and Pensions by failing to declare that he owned a commercial property which he rented out

- 18 months imprisonment for a woman who stole £43,135 in benefits from the council after failing to declare savings and a property in Baghdad

- A fine of £20,000 was received and a further £16,000 confiscated from a woman who failed to declare her ownership of five properties

- A man was found guilty of Blue Badge Fraud and fined £855 and ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work after it was discovered he was actually a passionate long-distance walker and a member of a Mountaineering Club

- An £850 fine was issued to a man exaggerating his disability to trick the Council into awarding him a Blue Badge. During his disability assessment, the applicant took almost 4 minutes to walk 25 meters. However, when his assessment was finished, the individual was seen walking 24 metres back to his car in just 27 seconds

- A social housing tenant’s property was recovered after she vacated it to live elsewhere in privately rented accommodation but wanted to keep the Bedford property available for occasional visits to the area.

Source

27 Apr 2015

Reading reports on benefits fraud & blue badge fraud

Benefit claimants have overclaimed more than £277,000 over the past year in Reading, prompting 17 prosecutions.

One benefit fraud case involved a massive £32,000 and Reading Borough Council has succeeded in retrieving the cash through the Proceeds of Crime Act.

From April 2014 to March 2015, the total housing benefit and council tax support overpaid was £214,604 while other state benefit overpayments totalled just under £62,000.

Paul Harrington, chief auditor at the council, was giving an end of year report to the audit and governance committee on Tuesday, April 21.

He said the council team was still working on a “couple of huge cases” alongside the Department of Work and Pensions.

As well as 17 prosecutions, administrative penalties were applied in 11 cases to get cash back without going to court.

Borough staff received 23 reports of housing and tenancy fraud and investigations have led to six council properties being returned to the housing stock and two returned to social landlords.

It is estimated these tenancy investigations have saved the council £108,000 by not having to spend on temporary accommodation for six tenants during the year.

======

Among the most common reports from the public of potential fraud are for Blue Badge users.

During the last year the council has conducted two proactive drives in Reading town centre to check on the legitimate use of Blue Badges entitling parking in disabled parking bays. As a result, 14 cases have been investigated.

Mr Harrington said: “We do get appreciation from members of the public for these investigations.”

The council is currently involved in a “complex investigation into payments made in respect of an adult care provider” and has successfully prosecuted another claimant for fraud and false accounting over personal budget payments.

There have been two linked investigations into potential fraud and perjury involving lawful development certificates where applicants have submitted “fictitious supporting statements in order to secure exemption from the need to apply for planning permission”.

Mr Harrington’s report said: “We are working closely with legal on possible criminal charges for false statements.”

And he concluded in his report: “We have been, and will continue, to work alongside officers from the electoral registration service for the prevention and detection of electoral fraud.”

But commenters aren't impressed with Reading Council's standard of service - see source.

25 Apr 2015

Woman faces eviction after housing benefit fraud

A 43-year-old woman from Fetcham is facing eviction after admitting that she gave false information to obtain social housing.

Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) successfully prosecuted Shamrock Close resident Tara Woodford for housing allocation and benefit fraud.

Redhill Magistrates' Court heard Woodford had obtained a property that she was not entitled to, which could have been allocated to someone in genuine need.

The fraud referral was first raised by her housing provider, Circle Housing Mole Valley.

Investigators established that Woodford's son, who had been declared as her responsibility on her original application, had in fact moved in with his father at the time of the allocation of the property. He lived and attended school in another part of the country.

When interviewed by investigators, Woodford admitted that false information had been provided when applying for housing, and also when making a claim for benefit to help with rental payments.

She was given a conditional discharge for two years and ordered to pay £100 towards court costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Rachel O'Reilly, the council's head of services, said MVDC and Circle Housing work closely together to identify and investigate allegations of tenancy fraud, with suspected cases being investigated by the council's fraud investigation team:
Social Housing is a scarce resource and residents can wait many months, or even years, before appropriate properties become available.

The Housing Register is administered by MVDC, and properties are allocated based on the genuine needs of the applicant. MVDC is committed to ensuring these applications are robustly checked and investigated and that legal action is taken where fraud is proven.

Anyone convicted of this type of offence will not qualify for social housing for a considerable period of time.
Woodford is now facing separate legal action from Circle Housing Mole Valley with a view to evicting her from the property.

Glynis Gatenby, managing director at Circle Housing Mole Valley, said: "We will always take action against residents found to be committing tenancy fraud as this allows us to return homes to people with a genuine housing need. If you suspect someone of committing fraud in Mole Valley, call the MVDC fraud hotline on 01306 879284. All calls are treated anonymously."

Source

So now we have to wait for another court hearing so that she can be evicted from the social housing she shouldn't have had in the first place. Complacency rules - this process needs to be streamlined.

Benefit fraud case takes three years to come to court

A benefits cheat illegally claimed over £27,000 despite owning a Spanish villa and not living in the UK, a court heard.

Dianne Rhodes, 59, claimed income support and council tax benefits for six years after telling authorities she lived in the Hunslet area of Leeds.

Leeds Crown Court heard that throughout the period of offending she was living in the Valencia region of Spain where she owned a villa.

Rhodes was given a 26-week prison sentence, suspended for two years and was ordered to do 100 hours unpaid work after pleading guilty to two offences of failing to notify a change in circumstances and one of making a dishonest representation to obtain benefits. Simon Clegg, prosecuting, said Rhodes’s initial claim for benefits in 2001 were legitimate.

But in 2006 she left her home on Parnaby Drive, Hunslet, to take up residency in Spain after buying a 50 per cent share in a villa. She failed to notify authorities of the move and continued to claim benefits which were paid into her bank account. The offending came to light in 2012 and she was arrested.

Graham Parkin, mitigating, said Rhodes fled the country in 2006 to escape domestic violence but accepted that she failed to notify authorities of a change in circumstances.

Mr Parkin said the property in Spain was worth around £35,000 and was in need of renovation. He said Rhodes had now returned to live in with her daughter and was studying for a languages degree at university.

Judge Neil Clark told Rhodes: “None of that is an excuse for stealing from the public. It amounts to nothing more and nothing less than that. You stole money from members of the public who provide that money for those who really need it.”

Rhodes now faces a confiscation hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Source

She was arrested in 2012 but not prosecuted until 2015. Now we have to wait for a separate confiscation hearing.

The investigation procedures and the legal process need to be streamlined!

24 Apr 2015

"Disabled" badge holder did 191 mile hike

A disability badge holder who claimed he could only walk 200 metres ended up in court after council officials noticed a newspaper report recounting his exploits on a 191-mile hike.

When Paul Gregory, 51, applied to renew his blue badge, he claimed exercise left him breathless, despite being a keen walker and member of a mountaineering club.

He was exposed when Bedford Borough Council staff read an article in The Westmorland Gazette, describing how the 'experienced walker' had been attacked by cows in Cumbria on the third day of a hike in 2012.

The article, which featured a picture of him dressed in walking gear, told how he was knocked over by four cows in a field at the edge of Shap in Cumbria.

The council also found he had spent a weekend walking in Wales days before making a blue badge application.

Gregory, of Bedford, pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly obtaining a blue badge by misrepresenting his physical abilities at Luton Magistrates' Court.

He was fined £795, and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work and pay a £60 victim surcharge. He was also subject to a one year supervision order and told to undergo 19 sessions of 'thinking skills'.

Source

22 Apr 2015

Unemployment falls as welfare reform kicks in

As Fraser Nelson points out.

However could this be...?

Tommy Docherty's granddaughter admits benefit fraud

The granddaughter of former Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty has admitted falsely claiming almost £18,000 in benefits.

Amy Wilkinson, 28, claimed housing benefit and council tax benefit even though she was living in a home owned by her mother and her partner, who was also working.

Wilkinson, who was a British Airways cabin crew attendant, was ordered to pay back a total of £17,604 that she claimed over two years when she appeared at South and East Cheshire Magistrates Court last week.

She admitted two charges of dishonestly making false representations in order to claim housing benefit, Council Tax benefit and income support.

Magistrates sentenced her to 24 weeks' imprisonment suspended for 24 months and ordered her to pay costs of £675 and a victim surcharge of £50.

Her grandfather, Tommy Docherty, now 86, was manager of Manchester United from 1972 until 1977. He was sacked over his affair with the wife of the team's physio in 1977.

Wilkinson, from Knutsford, applied for housing benefit and Council Tax benefit in April 2011, saying that she was on a low income, was living in a privately-rented property and needed assistance with her rent and council tax, a court heard,

She also made a claim for income support to help her and her daughter as she had no other income.

However, investigators from Cheshire East Council's benefit fraud investigation team and the DWP found she had failed to declare that her mother owned the property for which she was claiming housing benefit.

They also discovered that Wilkinson's partner had joined her household in January 2012 and had been supporting her and the family financially.

Over a two-year period, she received a total of £17,604 in state benefits that she was not entitled to. She will have to repay in full the benefits that she fraudulently obtained.

In 2011 she raised more than £10,000 for baby charity Tommy's and was thanked by the Chancellor George Osborne, who is also her local MP. She spent 18 months fundraising after she went into labour at 29 weeks and lost her son, Billy John, who tragically only lived for three minutes. Describing why she raised the money she said at the time: 'I was 29 weeks pregnant when I went into labour but they don't know why, there's just no answer for it. I needed something to focus on. Tommy's has been fabulous with us and on their website, they have a forum where you can talk to other people about it. I never realised how many people have been through what we have been through because at times I thought I was the only one.'

Source

20 Apr 2015

Benefit fraud in Northern Ireland

Benefit fraudsters are being caught stealing £5 million a year from tax payers in Northern Ireland. (h/t Dave)

Yet officials have only been able to claw back a fraction of the stolen cash. Last year £4,986,672 was pinched by benefit cheats and only £302,000 was recovered.

The shocking figures have also revealed almost £20million was paid to fraudsters between 2010 and 2014 and only £3million was recovered by the Department of Social Development.

And it is believed an other £13million goes undetected in benefit fraud annually.

The figures were released to Belfast Live after it emerged a woman who admitted defrauding the public purse of almost £101,000 is now paying back just £10 a week.

This means it will take her 100 years to repay the money she stole, after failing to inform authorities she was living with the father of her children.

Diana Majors, 34, of Shanlea Drive in Larne, escaped jail and was instead ordered to do 100 hours of community service.

When she was arrested she denied that the owner of the house where she was living, was also her partner and father of her children - until the police produced birth certificates proving he was the dad.

According to DSD, the maximum amount of money that can be deducted from any claimant who has defrauded the system is £18.25 a week.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: “The penalties need to be real, they need to be a deterrent. The recovery figures are laughable.”

According to the figures released through a Freedom of Information request, a total of 4,343 people were found to be fraudulently claiming money over the four year period.

The largest total amount of money paid out as a result of a fraudulent claim during that time was a whopping £114,561.

The figures only include cases where fraudulent claims have been identified and it is believed the cost to the taxpayer is much more. It is understood DSD officials estimate the cost to the public purse in respect of social security benefits in 2013 alone was £16.1m.

TUV MLA Jim Allister said: “These figures show the system is obviously being inadequately policed and individuals are not being properly pursued. This is an inordinate amount of money that is being taken out of the system that could go towards more deserving claimants.”