3 Aug 2015

"Intelligent" benefits thief jailed

'Intelligent' fraudster Antony Malam enjoyed a lavish lifestyle – after conning the state out of £85,311.

Judge David Fletcher described the 60-year-old's level of offending as 'breathtaking'.

Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard the defendant wrongly claimed income support, employment support allowance, disability living allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit, pension credits and incapacity benefit.

The claims – which were always fraudulent – ran from 2008 to 2014.

In a catalogue of deception, Malam:

Failed to declare his capital assets
Continued to claim UK benefits when living in the Philippines
Claimed housing benefits as a single person with no capital or savings – despite having more than £310,000 in November 2013 in the Philippines
Adopted a new name – Alan Johnson – in 2009 to claim even more benefits

Prosecutor Sarah Badrawy said: "It became clear the defendant was acting as a tenant and landlord using false documents to verify that position. On at least two occasions this defendant had conversations with the authorities indicating one of the tenants had gone to visit a friend and was in hospital when he was clearly aware he had died."

The court heard Malam was a frequent traveller abroad.

The prosecutor added: "It was established he had numerous bank accounts in the UK and abroad. He was substantially over the limit he would have been entitled to had his claims been legitimate."

The court heard Malam has paid back almost £100,000.

Richard Gibbs, mitigating, said: "He acknowledges the wrong he has committed. He apologises for what he has done. He has made clear financial recompense."

Malam, of Moorland Road, Burslem, admitted nine offences of benefit fraud and was jailed for 32 months.

Judge Fletcher told Malam: "The extent of your dishonesty is frankly breathtaking. Day-after-day in this court there is a procession of people who depend for their livelihood on benefits. Most of them are living on or close to the bread-line. At times you had £310,000 in an account in the Philippines when making these sort of claims, going to the extraordinary length of changing your name. The claims were fraudulent from the outset, with the proceeds helping to fund your lavish lifestyle. They were carried out over a lengthy period of time. This is one of the most serious offences of its type I have ever seen."

The investigation was carried out by the DWP, Staffordshire Police and Stoke-on-Trent City Council. It included a raid on his Burslem home.

DWP officer Claire Taylor said: "This exceptional investigation uncovered lengthy fraudulent claims for benefits."

Source

31 Jul 2015

Right To Buy frauds jump

The number of detected Right to Buy frauds in London has more than doubled in a year, councils have reported.

The report, by the London Boroughs’ Fraud Investigators’ Group, shows there were 300 detected Right to Buy frauds in the capital in 2014/15, up from 131 in 2013/14. The value of Right to Buy frauds has almost trebled, from £9m to £26.5m, over the same period.

The report estimates that around 3% of Right to Buy applications are fraudulent. The government increased Right to Buy discounts in April 2012 and the maximum discount is currently £103,000 in London.

It said: “The significant sums involved and the relentless increases in property values, especially in London, have made RTB discounts highly attractive, including to fraudsters. In the two years immediately after the discount increase was implemented, there was a near five-fold increase in the number of RTB frauds detected nationally.”

The report also shows that the number of detected housing benefit frauds has dropped 50% from 5,734 in 2013/14 to 2014/15, with the total value dropping from £28.2m to £23.5m over the same period.

However the average value of housing benefit frauds detected increased from £4,926 to £8,393, suggesting investigators are focusing more on detecting higher value cases.

Responsibility for investigating housing benefit and council tax benefit fraud is moving in stages to the Department for Work and Pensions, completing in March.

The report said: “Those London boroughs still investigating housing benefit and council tax benefit fraud are focusing on higher value frauds. This is an understandable development, but may indicate that they are generally not investigating lower value housing benefit frauds.’

The government is planning to extend higher Right to Buy discounts to housing association tenants. A Housing Bill to implement this is expected to come before parliament later in the year.

Source

30 Jul 2015

Nothing bad happens to £36k benefit thief

An obese grandmother in her forties who fraudulently pocketed £36,000 in benefits while travelling the globe with her civil partner was caught out when investigators found her holiday photographs on Facebook.

Cheryl Brooks, 45, was pictured stroking a leopard in Thailand, visiting the Sydney Opera House and singing karaoke in India as she and partner Margaret Brierley, 42, jetted to a number of exotic destinations.

But Brooks, from Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, had been swindling thousands of pounds in taxpayers' money by falsely claiming housing benefits, council tax benefits and employment support allowance.

Between 2010 and 2013, Brooks claimed she was scraping by on state benefits, living alone and single, when in fact she was in a civil partnership with Ms Brierley - with the couple marking the occasion with a lavish party for their family and friends.

Brooks had started a relationship with Ms Brierley, who became Mrs Brooks, a year after she started claiming the benefits. Ms Brierley moved into her home and continued working as a taxi driver, with Brooks maintaining the stance that she was living alone in three separate claims forms.

Over three years the couple raked in £36,166.81 in overpaid benefits while posting holiday snaps on Facebook of trips to Palma Nova in Spain, Australia, America - where she visited Elvis Presley's Graceland Home in Tennessee, and India.

The couple revisited Australia this year, also journeying to Thailand as part of their package tour, but this was after the fraud was discovered.

Brooks, who now lives on disability support allowance after quitting her own job as a taxi driver in 2009, and Ms Brierley, who is currently receiving sick pay from her minicab firm, were pictured stroking leopards in Thailand just four months ago.

Brooks admitted failing to declare a change in her circumstances but her eight month prison sentence was suspended for two years when she appeared at at Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester.

She was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £2,308 - which will be taken from her Disability Living Allowance and Working Tax Credit.

But after she was spared jail she took to Facebook to tell friends she could now plan a 'get out of jail free party'.

In a status update to her page, she said: 'Well for once things went well for me and I'm still here taking my bag home with me thank you for all the good wishes I've had and everyone's support.' And then in reply to wishes of goodwill, she added: 'Just got to wait for good weather for my get out of jail free party lol.'

Brooks's con was only rumbled in August 2013 when anti-fraud initiative investigators became suspicious and came across her Facebook page where they discovered the catalogue of holiday snaps from far-flung destinations.

Prosecuting on behalf of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, Dean Hulse said: 'The Facebook account demonstrated they had been on a number of holidays together during the claim period. Palma Nova in 2011, India in 2012, Australia and the USA in 2013. This represented a lavish lifestyle beyond the means of a person who was single with dependent children whose sole income was state benefits.'

The court heard Brooks made her initial claim for benefits in September 2009 but it became fraudulent in September 2010 when Ms Brierley moved into her home.

In October 2010, November 2010 and September of the following year, Brooks made claims for benefits masquerading as a single woman with no income, when in fact she was living with her partner who was working full-time.

The DWP and local authority were first tipped off by the anti-fraud initiative in August 2013 that a taxi license was registered to Brooks's address, which led to an investigation to see whether she was actually living with Ms Brierley.

Officers found Brooks's Facebook account which showed the pair had entered into a civil partnership in November 2012, the court heard.

Having previously told the DWP that she only had one bank account, it soon transpired that Brooks in fact had five, with two in the joint names of herself and Ms Brierley.

Mr Hulse said: 'This reflects the calculation that has gone into this by the defendant to conceal evidence she was living with another person. There was information provided to the local authority by the anti-fraud initiative which suggested there was a taxi licence at the address. The local authority administer these, so they reviewed their records and saw the address given by Brierley was the defendant's address. For the offence period, the defendant was living with Brierley. It is the taxpayer who suffers. Particularly in times when public funds are scarce it could be considered more unacceptable to be committing this type of offence.'

Mitigating for Brooks, who had no previous convictions, Mark Harper said she had always accepted her misconduct. 'It was not fraudulent from the outset but in 2010 she became involved in a relationship with Mrs Brierley who she already knew and they maintained a common household and that was not declared,' he said.

But on sentencing Brooks, Judge Stuart Driver QC told her: 'Over three years you dishonestly obtained £36,000 of public money. I don't believe everything you said to probation. I think you had a good lifestyle out of that and funded luxurious foreign travel. You had a number of bank accounts and although it wasn't fraud from the start, it quickly became so. You have health problems and I give you full credit for your plea.'

Source with holiday snaps

Disabled?

The alert came almost two years ago, by the way.

29 Jul 2015

Mother jailed for £21k benefit fraud

A benefit cheat mother-of-three has been jailed after fiddling more than £21,000 she was not entitled to receive – by keeping quiet that her soldier boyfriend lived with her.

People who "play by the rules and pay their taxes" during times of squeezed public finances had a right to expect fraudsters to be jailed, a court heard.

Siobhan Milligan, 25, of Habrough, admitted two offences of failing to notify a change in her circumstances affecting her entitlement to benefit.

Richard Sheldon, prosecuting, told Grimsby Crown Court that the offences happened over a period of about two-and-a-half years between September 2011 and February last year. She wrongly claimed a total of £8,684 in Income Support and £12,500 in housing benefit and council tax benefit. She did not declare that Simon Thomas, a soldier, had been living with her.

Ian Durant, mitigating, said that Milligan was "foolish" and "did not quite get to grips with the benefits system". She wrongly thought that, because Mr Thomas spent a lot of time at his barracks in North Yorkshire and on manoeuvres in Cyprus, she did not need to declare that they were a couple.

"She did not by any means enjoy a lavish lifestyle," said Mr Durant. "She deeply regrets her involvement in this dishonesty. She understands the severity of what she has done. She is ashamed of herself and remorseful."

Judge David Tremberg told Milligan: "The public purse is, and has been, strained severely for some years. It's essential that optimum use is made of such scarce public funds as do exist and they are they are not siphoned off into the pockets of dishonest people who are not entitled to them. This offence is so serious that only an immediate custodial sentence is appropriate for it. The public are entitled to expect that you are punished for what you have done and a sentence is imposed which should deter others."

It was important that members of the public who "play by the rules and pay their taxes" should see benefit cheats going to prison, said Judge Tremberg.

Milligan, who had no previous convictions, was jailed for 12 weeks.

Source

24 Jul 2015

Lottery winner benefit thief played the system

A lottery winner has been jailed for two years for manipulating the court systems after falsely claiming state benefits.

She had claimed £107,000 in benefits for her ‘sick’ husband while not declaring her winnings of £120,000.

She had plastic surgery and bought a plasma TV while her husband went scuba diving in Cyprus and was an extra on Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

After serving 21 months in prison for the initial benefit fraud, Lesley Brogan from Edenthorpe, Doncaster then forged letters in an attempt to fight the confiscation of criminal proceedings order launched by prosecutors.

Sentencing her at Sheffield Crown Court, Judge Peter Kelson told her: ‘You are a manipulator of court systems to the nth degree. You have tried every single conceivable avenue of escape you could find for yourself.’

The court heard that she sent a fake letter to a Social Security Appeals Tribunal in March, 2013. The letter purporting to be from a Doncaster GP said that she was not well enough to attend.

Brogan launched a series of appeals against both the criminal conviction and the confiscation order which went as far as the Court of Appeal. She failed in all the appeals.

Speaking in defence, Derek Duffy said that she adopted a ‘siege mentality’ and had fought at ‘every possible opportunity’ until two months ago.

He said: ‘She has now been persuaded to drop this campaign against the Crown and everything connected with the benefits payments.’

Judge Kelson said she had provided ‘fictitious’ letters to the tribunal and the ‘genesis’ of the case was the criminal proceedings for the benefits fraud.

He told her: ‘You embarked upon a crusade and found every obstacle you could present to hinder the proceedings. You only stopped this crusade because you realised there was simply nowhere left to go.’

Source with picture

23 Jul 2015

Benefits cheats take £900k from Sandwell Council in a year

More than 190 investigations were launched into fraud relating to benefits paid for housing and council tax in 2014/15. (h/t Dave)

Illegal subletting and not using a house as a main home were among the ways residents were found to be flouting tenancy rules.

The overpayments totalled £856,828, the council's counter fraud unit discovered.

Action was taken against 83 people caught fiddling claims forms - this ranged from formal warnings and fines to prosecution at court.

During the 12 months, 51 people were prosecuted, 13 were fined and 18 formal warnings were issued.

In addition, 21 were caught flouting the rules of the council tax reduction scheme leading to overpayments totalling £17,380.

Earlier this month convicted benefits cheat Rashpal Kaur , who made bogus claims totalling tens of thousands of pounds, was jailed for failing to pay back the money. The 47-year-old, of Europa Avenue, West Bromwich raked in excess housing and council tax benefit over six years after lying about her circumstances to Sandwell Council.

During the past 12 months more than 100 homes have been seized by Sandwell Council after tenants were caught misusing properties.

The council launched more than 200 tenancy fraud investigations during the past year and recovered a total of 115 properties.

The council said two people had been convicted of ‘right to buy’ fraud during the past year.

Figures released earlier this year showed the council is owed more than £2 million in unpaid council tax from last year. A total of 19,628 council tax accounts were not paid in full by the end of the 2014/15 financial year, the figures show.

This has left the council needing to chase £2.2m. But bosses say despite the outstanding payments, they have a high council tax collection rate in the borough.

In September, it emerged that more than 10,000 housing tenants in Sandwell owed money to the council for outstanding rent payments equalling more than £3m.

At the source site, one commenter adds:

  • As a council benefits officer, if a claimant is able to prove their entitlement to benefit they are required by law to pay it. The fraud is almost always the total fault of the claimant and to start investigating the council has to have reason. There are probably getting on for 500 claimants to each benefit officer so the odds are stacked in favour of the benefit thieves.

22 Jul 2015

Confiscation order on benefit thief at first hearing

A fraudster claimed £22,000 in housing benefit and council tax overpayments over four years.

Glennda Rhodes, of Glenmere, Vange, admitted 11 offences of knowingly failing to notify her change in circumstances contrary to the Social Security Administration Act 1992 at Basildon Magistrates Court this week.

The 61-year-old admitted failing to declare savings, additional income from a job, her occupational pension and declaring that she was living with a partner.

Magistrates sentenced her to a 12-month community order, including 100 hours of unpaid work.

She was subject to a restraint order on her bank accounts under the Proceeds of Crime Act and a confiscation order was made.

She was also ordered to pay £3,000 costs within six months.

Cllr Stuart Sullivan, cabinet member responsible for resources, said: “This is an alarming case of fraud because of the amount involved and the fact it went on for nearly four years. Basildon Council takes these cases very seriously and will vigorously pursue those who commit these crimes. We will also push for the maximum sentence to act as a deterrent to others.”

Source

20 Jul 2015

Two years to obtain compensation order

We last looked at Graham Axford back in 2013 - the legal system grinds exceedingly slow (making a mockery of claims that it can't modernise or save money).

Now here he is again. He has just been ordered to repay £35,000 within three months or go back to prison.

As we know, he was jailed in March 2013 for 16 weeks for falsely claiming £29,000 of housing and council tax benefit between 2003 and 2011.

The 60-year-old, now living in Haling Park Road, South Croydon, was living in a council flat in Belgrave Road, South Norwood at the time of his fraud but was evicted from that flat.

Axford failed to tell the council he owned a home near Newport in Wales and part-owned a farmhouse, land and holiday cottage in Normandy, France. His yacht has since been sold to pay off marina fees while it was found he owned five acres of land in South Carolina.

His fraud gained public attention in November 2011 when was the subject of a BBC Panorama investigation into benefit cheats.

The confiscation order means he must sell his assets to pay back the money he made from the criminal activity. It states he must pay back £35,166.37 in three months or face a 14 month prison sentence with interest accruing on the debt. Approximately £30,000 of this will go to the council with the remainder divided between the court and Treasury.

In his defence in the original court case he denied owning the Welsh property and had transferred the ownership of the French home to his wife. He had denied three counts of benefit fraud by false representations in the original trial.

Councillor Simon Hall, cabinet member for finance and treasury, said: "This has been a long-running case and I'd like to pay tribute to the tenacity of our investigators for bringing this to a positive conclusion. It shows that not only will we prosecute benefit cheats, but we will also investigate how much they have gained from their criminal activity, and seek to claim it back."

A long-running case? You can say that again. If it takes so much work, and so much time, to get a confiscation order against one offender, is there any wonder that the resources aren't there to investigate benefit fraud more widely?

17 Jul 2015

Mother jailed for £16k benefit fraud

A young mother has been jailed for benefit fraud – after claiming she lived alone with her baby.

Lisa Clare Davies, 26, made claims for Income Support, Housing Benefit, and Jobseeker's Allowance totalling more than £16,000. She failed to mention that she was in fact living with her partner, who at the time was working.

The defendant, from Maryport, entered guilty pleas to three offences, representing the three benefits, and was jailed by magistrates for 12 weeks.

The court, in Workington, was told how the claim she made for those benefits in both April and July 2012 was fraudulent from the outset. This was because the defendant failed to declare that she was living with a working partner at the time.

Officials from the DWP discovered that she was living with her partner, a mechanic called Jamie Robertson, from shortly after the birth of her child. But she failed to declare this on any of her claim forms, the court heard.

Despite the evidence that he was living with her which was gathered by DWP investigators, she claimed their relationship had been “off and on” – although she admitted they had lived together even before her claim was lodged.

In total, the overpayment of benefits came to more than £16,000, and included overpayment of Income Support totalling £6,733; and an overpayment of Housing Benefit of £7,524.

Passing sentence, magistrates remarked that the defendant’s claim was dishonest from the start and persisted over a long period. The jail term was reduced, however, because of Davies’ guilty pleas.

Source

16 Jul 2015

Benefit thief goes to prison

A 'brazen' fraudster has been jailed for money laundering and illegally claiming nearly £28,000 in benefits.

Salih Ozbay, 37, of College Road, Walthamstow was sentenced to a year in prison after being found guilty of four charges including three benefit fraud offences and one money laundering offence at Waltham Forest Magistrates Court.

Waltham Forest council investigators discovered that between March 2008 and July 2012 Mr Ozbay received £26,000 in housing benefits and nearly £2,000 in council tax benefits that he was not entitled to.

The landlord had failed to declare that he was the owner of four properties for which he received a rental income, that he received student loans and grants and was the company secretary at two businesses.

The properties Mr Ozbay claimed benefits on were owned by his brother’s wife, which he also failed to declare.

During the period of receiving illegal benefits, Mr Ozbay unsuccessfully applied for discretionary housing payments, claiming that he was suffering severe financial hardship, and needed additional funds.

Mr Ozbay was sentenced to a year in custody for each charge to be served concurrently.

In sentencing at Snaresbrook Crown Court, Judge Hammerton described Mr Ozbay's actions as a, “brazen attempt to obtain benefits to which you were not entitled.”

A confiscation hearing will be held on November 6 2015.

Source