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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Council’s crackdown on benefit cheats sees more than £1m being clawed back for taxpayers

 

Cheshire East Council’s crackdown on benefit cheats has led to more than £1m being clawed back for taxpayers and more than 50 people being convicted by courts this year.

The landmark figures were revealed as the Council successfully prosecuted six people in the Borough for benefit fraud in its latest court cases.

Since January 1 (2014), the authority’s benefit investigations team has uncovered  more than £1.315m in fraudulently-obtained benefits – which is to be repaid by the offenders –  and achieved 56 convictions.

Cheshire East Council actively pursues the recovery of all fraudulently obtained money to ensure the taxpayer does not lose out.

Councillor Peter Raynes, Cheshire East Council Cabinet member in charge of finance, said: “A figure of £1.315m is a significant amount of money that is successfully being reclaimed for our taxpayers.

“These latest prosecutions, and others like them, send out a very clear message that we are an enforcing Council and will take robust action to protect our communities from those who abuse the rules at the expense of taxpayers.

“Benefit fraud will not be tolerated. In the last financial year, we successfully prosecuted more than 40 benefit cheats and to date this year we have uncovered and cracked down successfully on 56 offenders.

“I congratulate our enforcement teams on their hard work on taxpayers’ behalf. The message is clear: people who cheat the system will be brought to justice.”

On top of the 56 benefit fraud convictions, a further 27 people were handed financial penalties rather than prosecuted and 26 people were issued with cautions.

The latest prosecutions netted fraud totalling more than £72k with offenders ordered to repay the money and pay out more than £3,000 in fines and court costs.

They were also sentenced to a total of six-and-a-half years of community supervision and told to do more than 500 hours of unpaid community work. One offender was sentenced to 12 months in jail suspended for two years:

Linda Morris, Elaine Stanley and Andrew Millican appeared before South and East Cheshire Magistrates’ Court (December 2, 2014) and all pleaded guilty to benefit fraud.

Linda Morris, 42, of Primrose Avenue, Haslington, Crewe, was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 100 hours’ unpaid work and ordered to pay £585 costs and a £60 victim surcharge for fraudulently obtaining £10,248 in housing benefit, Council Tax benefit and Council Tax support after failing to advise the Council that she had increased her earnings and her partner had started work;

Elaine Stanley, 45, of Rees Crescent, Holmes Chapel, was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 120 hours’ unpaid work and ordered her to pay £585 costs and a £60 victim surcharge for fraudulently obtaining £15,123 in housing benefit, Council Tax benefit and Council Tax support after failing to declare to the Council that her partner had been living with her for more than two years;

Andrew Millican, 56, of Waggs Road, Congleton, was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 100 hours’ unpaid work and ordered him to pay costs of £585 and a victim surcharge of £60 after fraudulently obtaining £6,480 in Council Tax benefit and Council Tax support after failing to declare he had capital of more than £16,000. Additionally he failed to advise the Council of an increase in his earnings and that his partner had started to receive an occupational pension;

Sharon Bains, 40 of Delamere Road, Bedworth and Kiren Sidhu, 43, of Shawbury Road, Manchester, appeared before Macclesfield Magistrates (December 4, 2014) over a fraud where Sidhu produced false documents for Bains to provide to the Council to make a claim for a property in High Street, Macclesfield, on the basis that she was on a low income.

However, investigators found that these earning certificates were false and Bains was working elsewhere on a higher income and that Bains had also failed to declare that the property she was renting belonged to her sister and brother-in-law.

This fraud led to Bains receiving £8,076 in housing benefit and Council Tax benefit to which she was not entitled. Magistrates sentenced Bains to a 12-month community penalty with a requirement to completed 200 hours’ unpaid work and ordered her to pay £435 costs and a £60 victim surcharge.

For her part in producing the false documents to support Bains’ fraudulent claims, Sidhu was sentenced to a six-month community penalty with six-months’ supervision and a six-week curfew. She was also ordered to pay £200 costs and a £60 victim surcharge;

Sharon Smith, 51, of Glover Street, Crewe, appeared before Judge HHJ Woodward at Warrington Crown Court (on December 4, 2014) for sentencing following an earlier guilty plea to benefit fraud.

Smith had claimant various benefits from the Council and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the basis that she lived alone and had no income. However, a joint investigation by the Council and the DWP found Smith had failed to declare that she had started to receive a pension in 2001 and at this time had also received a lump sum payment of £20,000.

Investigators also found that Smith had made false claims for housing benefit and Council Tax benefit in 2009 and that she had a resident partner who was supporting her financially. In failing to declare the pension, the lump sum payment and her partner and his income for a claim covering more than 11 years, Smith fraudulently obtained state benefits totalling £33,308.

Smith was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment suspended for 24 months with a two-year supervision order and a six-month curfew from 6pm to 6am. She was also ordered to pay costs of £896.

Sentencing, Judge Woodward said this was a serious offence committed over 11 years and that state benefits were there to help people in genuine need and that by falsely claiming the benefits Smith had taken a resource ‘from the most vulnerable in society’.

If you think someone is committing benefit fraud, you can ring the confidential freephone fraud hotline on 0800 389 2787. You don’t have to give your name and your call will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Alternatively, you can report suspected fraud via the Council’s website at www.cheshireeast.gov.uk

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