26 Feb 2015

Light sentences for Bromley benefit thieves

Three people will have to pay tens of thousands of pounds back to Bromley Council after being caught committing benefit fraud.

Jibike Adelagun, Roger Byrne and Lindsey Thorpe will have to repay all the money they falsely claimed.

Adelagun, 49, defrauded the council out of £22,630 in housing and council tax benefit between August 2011 and June 2014 by not declaring that she had three jobs. She was also ordered to do 170 hours’ unpaid community work and pay £575 costs.

Byrne, 62, did not declare that he was a company director and receiving a pension, thereby defrauding the council out of £2,908 in housing benefit from December 2012 to February last year. He was also fined £145 and ordered to pay £575 in costs and a victim surcharge of £20.

Thorpe, 36, defrauded the council out of £20,166 in housing and council tax benefit from April 2011 to June last year, after not declaring various sources of income and a salary increase. She was ordered to do 80 hours’ unpaid community work and pay £575 costs.

All three admitted fraud at Bromley Magistrates’ Court.

Source

25 Feb 2015

Royal Marine bodyguard in £49k benefits swindle

A former Royal Marine swindled £49,000 in benefits by claiming he was too injured to walk while working as a bodyguard in the Middle East. (h/t Dave)

Paul White told doctors he was crippled by pain while playing golf and going to the gym, Exeter Crown Court heard.

White, 46, got a higher rate of pension because of his supposed disability.

He was jailed for two years, suspended for two years, ordered to do 300 hours unpaid community work and repay the £49,000 with £2,500 costs.

When investigators called at White's home in Bunkersland, near Tiverton, he was away working as a guard on ships in the Arabian Gulf.

Judge Phillip Wassall said: "You were working in seaborne security and as a bodyguard at the time you were claiming disability benefits but you were also playing golf and doing 10 kilometre runs in less than an hour. At the time you were maintaining the claim that you were only capable of walking 25 metres and that with the aid of a stick. The dishonesty went on for six years and was breathtaking."

He ordered White to repay the money at £1,500 a month, which means he should clear the debt in less than three years.

David Sapiecha, for the prosecution, said White was invalided out of the Royal Marines in 2001 with a back injury.

He said the fraud was committed against the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, which assessed White as qualifying for the higher rate of allowance in 2003.

The court heard an orthopaedic expert concluded either White had initially lied about the injury or it had improved significantly between 2001 and 2006.

Lee Bremridge, for the defence, said White had suffered a prolapsed disc which was a genuine injury to his back and his initial claims were genuine.

Source

24 Feb 2015

Keys amnesty reaches Slough

Local authorities sometimes move slowly. After Cornwall, word of keys amnesties has reached Slough.

An amnesty is being held in Slough in order to give tenants who are illegally subletting their council homes the chance to hand their keys back.

Those who wish to avoid prosecution for tenancy fraud, a crime which could land offenders in jail or with a hefty fine, will be able to drop their keys in to the council between March 1 and 31, with no questions asked.

The keys must be placed in an envelope with the property’s address clearly written on it and dropped in the key amnesty box at MyCouncil, in Landmark Place.

A major crackdown on tenants who cheat the system will be launched in April with council officers stepping up doorstep checks, using electronic document readers to verify tenants’ details and working with the National Fraud initiative to weed out fraudulent housing applications.

“This amnesty will give anyone who has been subletting their council property for whatever reason the chance to make a clean break,” said tenancy fraud officer, John Moores. “It’s also an opportunity for people to tell us if they don’t use their council property as their main home or have moved in with a partner. After the amnesty we will be cracking down hard on tenancy fraudsters, prosecuting any cases we come across. So this really is the last chance to come clean without the fear of being taken to court.”

For every illegally sublet property, the council pays around £20,000 a year to find alternative accommodation for a family who could otherwise be housed.

“We have such a huge demand for social housing in Slough, with nearly 2,000 households in need and waiting for a council house,” said Cllr James Swindlehurst, deputy leader and commissioner for neighbourhoods and renewal. “Each property returned to the council will mean a new home for one of these families and money saved to the council for other things. Sometimes tenants have let friends use their property while they’re away, leading to a longer term arrangement involving an exchange of cash rather than any pre-planned criminality. However, tenancy fraud is a serious crime, not to mention a breach of our tenancy agreement, and its one we’re not willing to turn a blind eye to. The likelihood is that we’ll catch up with you sooner or later, so do the right thing and drop your keys back with no questions asked while you still can.”

Source

23 Feb 2015

Benefit fraudster given "financial life sentence"

The future earnings of a benefits fraudster have been seized by the Scottish Crown Office under the terms of a “financial life ­sentence”.

The Crown secured a “nominal” £1 confiscation order against a benefits fraudster – meaning that any future earnings will be reclaimed as criminal profits from her if appropriate.

Shaleena Ahmed, 32, from Pollockshields in Glasgow, was made the subject of a confiscation order after claiming more than £16,000 of benefits which she was not entitled to. As Ahmed had no money to pay up, the court made an order for the “nominal” amount of £1.

The purpose of this order is to maintain the Crown’s position, so that if the accused obtains any assets in the future, the court can be asked to recalculate the ­confiscation order up to the amount the guilty party benefited from the crime.

Lindsey Miller, procurator- fiscal for organised crime and counter-terrorism, said
:The Crown is dedicated to recovering proceeds of crime wherever possible. However, sometimes an accused simply has no assets with which to pay, or it may be more appropriate for them to repay their victims. In these cases, we use the powers of the Proceeds of Crime Act to ask that their full illegal profit is formally recorded by the court and a nominal order for £1 is made against them. This ensures that the Crown can go back to the court should the accused obtain any assets in the future, or fail to repay their victims, and raise the confiscation order up to the total amount they made from their criminal activity.
Source

20 Feb 2015

False claim to be a single parent leads to suspended sentence

A woman who made false statements about her single parent status in a claim for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit was sentenced to six months custody, suspended for two years, at Hammersmith Magistrates Court after previously pleading guilty to five counts of dishonestly claiming Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. (h/t A Reader)

The court heard how when Erika Fletcher Sanchez first claimed benefit in 2004 she told the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea that she was a single mother. However, the Council questioned her relationship status when she had two further children in 2010 and 2011 with different surnames. Fletcher Sanchez made a number of written statements insisting that she still lived alone.

It was later discovered, as part of an investigation by the Council’s Corporate Investigation Group, that Fletcher Sanchez had in fact married Mr Fabian Andres Restrepo Bonilla in Colombia in September 2010. Upon their return to the UK, they had lived together at Longridge Road.

This prompted the Council to call Fletcher Sanchez in for an interview under caution in March 2014. During her interview Fletcher Sanchez exercised her right to make no comment but she did provide a written statement in which there was no mention of her husband.

Sentencing Fletcher Sanchez, the magistrates said that because of her early guilty plea they would not be sending her case to Crown Court, where her sentence could have been greater. They also said that while the fraud was committed over a long period and involved a large sum of money her claim had not been fraudulent from the outset but that Fletcher Sanchez had provided false explanations. However, they had seen her references and the pre-sentence report and noted she was of previous good character.

As a result of her making false statements in support of her Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit claim, Fletcher Sanchez received £22,783 in Housing Benefit, £2,023 in Council Tax Benefit and £978 in Council Tax reduction to which she was not entitled. This overpayment stretched from September 2010 (when she got married) to May 2014.

As well as the suspended custodial sentence a contribution to costs of £750 was awarded, along with a victim surcharge of £80 and unpaid work of 200 hours (the latter to be completed within 12 months).

Source

19 Feb 2015

Two social housing frauds

Two women registered on Northampton Borough Council’s housing waiting list have been handed hefty fines - after it was revealed both lied about their links to properties in London.

The cases, which were both heard at Northampton Magistrates' Court, saw both offenders ordered to each pay fines of £500, costs of £500 and £50 victim surcharges.

In one case, Dilara Begum was prosecuted under the Housing Act after making an application for housing in Northampton and failing to declare that she already owned a property in London.

In the second, Sandra Brown was found to be sub-letting a council property she was renting in London - despite being allocated a council property in Northampton.

Brown was prosecuted under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act – the council’s first prosecution under the new act.

Speaking about the cases, Councillor Mary Markham (Con, Obelisk) deputy leader and Northampton Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “The council is committed to ensuring vigorous checks are carried out in relation to applications for social housing and this process helps to ensure that properties are allocated to people with a genuine need. Robust action will be taken against anyone submitting false applications.”

Source

Social housing fraud is the most wicked form of welfare fraud. The sums that can be saved are huge, but it's so much more than the money - needy families are being deprived of the chance to have a settled home that suits their needs.

18 Feb 2015

Benefit fraud is this easy

A 67-year-old woman who continued claiming benefits despite having more than £100,000 in the bank has been given a suspended prison sentence. (h/t Dave)

Blackburn magistrates heard Hilary Lee told the DWP she only had savings of £500 during a telephone interview.

And the fraudulent claim led to an overpayment of more than £20,000 in housing, council tax and pension benefits.

Lee, of Broadfield, Oswaldtwistle, pleaded guilty to two charges of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain benefit.

She was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison suspended for 12 months, made subject to a curfew between 10pm and 5am for three months and she was also ordered to pay £165 costs.

Catherine Allan, prosecuting, said the claims had been fraudulent from the start in 2009 until May 2014:
In essence she has failed to declare to the Department of Work and Pensions and Hyndburn Borough Council that she owned a second property. She inherited the house in 2008 and sold it for £117,000 in 2012. She told officers she only had £500 in savings and has therefore helped herself to £20,254 of tax payers money.
Deborah Morgan, defending, said her client had no previous convictions and all the money had been repaid.

She said that after inheriting the property Lee still considered it her dad’s house. “She did nothing with it for ten years and it was always her intention to move back into that house. You are not going to see her before the court again. This has been extremely traumatic for her and she is genuinely remorseful.”

Source

Just one lie over the phone, and you're quids in.

Trivial punishment for benefit thief

Joanna Hill, from Aston Clinton, failed to declare £70,000 in savings when she made her benefit claims, above the threshold of £16,000, which legally barred her from claiming benefits.

Over a five-year period she received illegal overpayments of almost £22,000. (h/t Dave)

Aylesbury Magistrates Court ordered her to repay the total of £21,981 she had falsely claimed and sentenced her to 140 hours unpaid work and £1,200 towards costs.

Source
  • These benefit thieves do it for the money. They should have to pay back twice what they stole. They should not be eligible for any benefits until they have, and they should have to do some unpaid work every week until the debt to society is cleared.

    That would be a deterrent.

    A confiscation order should be made immediately.

    Hit them in the pocket!

16 Feb 2015

Two properties returned so far in Cornwall keys amnesty

We looked at Cornwall's belated adoption of a keys amnesty here. Cornwall Council estimated that as many as 200 Cornwall Council and Cornwall Housing tenancies could be affected.

Well, now we have an update.


Two homes have so far been returned to Cornwall Housing use as a result of a 'key amnesty' programme run by the council.

With a couple of weeks still to go until the end of the amnesty, which gives people who are illegally subletting or not living in their council homes the opportunity to hand back their keys, the operation's hotline has received 69 calls and two properties have been surrendered by tenants

The two month programme runs until 28 February 2015, and allows people to hand back their keys rather than face possible criminal investigation and potential legal action which could ultimately result in a criminal conviction.

The council said: "Every property being used fraudulently stops another household in housing need from accessing that affordable housing. A new home costs on average well over £150,000 to build and there are almost 28,000 households registered on Cornwall Homechoice seeking an affordable home, making it even more important that those committing tenancy fraud do not get away with depriving other households out of the homes they need."

Illegal subletting happens when a council home is let to a tenant and that tenant then moves out and illegally lets the property to someone else – usually at a higher rent.

Not only is this illegal, it prevents much needed homes from being made available to families in genuine need and in addition costs every household in Cornwall money.

Cornwall Council’s Corporate Fraud Team and Cornwall Housing Ltd have been working in partnership since August 2014 to tackle tenancy fraud and, in what is believed to be the first such prosecution in Cornwall under new Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act legislation, a former tenant was convicted of tenancy fraud in December for illegally moving out of and then subletting a council house. The former tenant was given a 12 month conditional discharge and was ordered to pay Cornwall Council’s full investigation and legal costs after admitting moving out of the property and subletting it.

Jane Barlow, managing director of Cornwall Housing, said: “This prosecution shows that this type of activity will not be tolerated by Cornwall Housing Ltd. We have been working in partnership with Cornwall Council’s experienced Corporate Fraud Team and two homes have already been surrendered.
We have seen evidence of how introducing a key amnesty has worked well in other parts of the country. By bringing the issue to the public’s attention, other authorities saw an increase in referrals to its tenancy fraud hotline and we are seeing the same results here. We know that the overwhelming majority of residents live in their homes legally and that they share our commitment to tackling tenancy fraud and I would encourage anyone who suspects someone of committing tenancy fraud to get in touch.”

Joyce Duffin, Cornwall Council Cabinet Member for Housing and Environment said: “It costs on average £18,000 a year to house a family in temporary accommodation. There is huge pressure on the supply of social housing making it imperative that the housing we do have available goes to people in genuine need of help. It’s totally wrong for people not to be living in housing intended for them and to be potentially illegally profiting from it at the same time.”

The initiative was launched in the wake of a change in the law and the introduction of the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 in October 2013, which means people illegally subletting their property can now face a prison sentence of up to two years, a criminal record, or a fine of up to £5,000.

Joyce adds: “I would urge anyone either not living in or illegally sub-letting their council home to get in touch right away. Once the amnesty ends anyone found not to be living in their home or illegally subletting will face the full force of the new powers.”

Anyone who is illegally subletting or is not living in their council home should hand back their keys to the Council’s Corporate Fraud Team, local housing officer or housing office.

Source

13 Feb 2015

Mother & daughter eventually convicted of long-term benefit fraud

A mother and daughter who claimed they were so disabled they could barely walk stole £50,000 while working in hospitals, a court has heard.

Wendy Perry, 66, took £28,500 of taxpayers’ money over five years working as a medical secretary, while her daughter Nicola Manson-Perry, 48, stole £20,400 as an accounts clerk over nine years.

Both women, who shared a home in Wednesbury, West Midlands, received thousands of pounds worth of Disability Living Allowance pay-outs after claiming they could hardly walk unaided.

Perry claimed she had to hold onto the wall for balance to ensure she did not fall while walking to her desk at Sandwell Hospital in West Bromwich. She also claimed she had difficulty communicating and filling in forms and even increased the pay-out by stating she needed constant care both day and night.

But Perry was caught when DWP investigators spent four days secretly filming her walking to her car at the hospital in April 2013. The clear footage shows Perry, who even parked in a disabled bay, strolling to her vehicle quickly without any aids and with no sign of a limp.

Investigators then widened their probe to include her daughter after it was discovered Manson-Perry was also picking up DLA pay-outs by claiming it took her ten minutes to walk two metres (7ft).

Both women were arrested by police at their home in August 2013 - but maintained they were innocent of any benefit fraud.

However, they were both convicted of failing to report a change in circumstances after separate trials at Wolverhampton Crown Court.

Perry, who has worked for the NHS since 1995, is due to be sentenced on March 6. Manson-Perry was spared jail when she was sentenced yesterday to 34 weeks in prison, suspended for two years.

Judge Robin Onions told her:
At some stage your mobility significantly increased and I am satisfied you knew that. Two work colleagues said they did not notice any restriction to your mobility. At no stage did you need mobility aids as you walked from your car to the office and walked along corridors to meetings. You convinced yourself that because you had other medical problems this, in some sense, justified you in continuing in this unjustified claim. You should now discuss with your mother how you are jointly going to pay back the debt you owe to the state.
The court heard Manson-Perry, who is married without children, had been employed by the NHS since 2004 and worked as a £22,000-a-year accounts clerk at Birmingham City Hospital.

At one stage she claimed it took her ten minutes to walk just two metres but colleagues told the DWP that they never noticed any restriction to her mobility.

She claimed to have a back condition and difficulty with her knee, while her mother said she had a variety of medical problems.

The court heard the women’s claims were not fraudulent from the outset but neither reported improvements in their condition that affected their right to the benefit.

A spokesman for the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital NHS Trust, which runs both hospitals where the women worked, confirmed they had both been suspended.

They added: ‘The Trust is aware that two members of staff have been found guilty of offences related to benefit fraud. Upon their conviction both members of staff were suspended whilst formal investigations are ongoing to assess whether disciplinary action should be taken. The formal investigations are expected to conclude in March.’

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