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Friday, May 3, 2013

County tackles rising benefit fraud

Denbighshire County Council is cracking down on benefit fraud, which has risen up by almost 100% in four years.

In 2012-13 investigations by the authority's Benefit Compliance Section resulted in a total of 160 sanctions against benefit claimants who had made false statements to claim Housing and Council Tax Benefit, or who had failed to promptly notify a change which affected their benefit.

Many of the cases were investigated in conjunction with the Department of Works and Pensions investigation service. This is an increase of almost 100% in four years.

Whilst the most serious cases were prosecuted, the section also offered a number of cautions and Administrative Penalties as an alternative to prosecution.

Where these were declined the cases were referred for prosecution.

An Administrative Penalty is a fine imposed on the total overpayment of 30%, which has recently been increased by legislation to 50%.

The council can now also impose a Civil Penalty (£50 in Benefit cases and £70 in Council Tax Reduction cases) in instances where a claimant has negligently made an incorrect statement and failed to take reasonable steps to correct the error, failed to provide information requested or failed to report a change in circumstances, without reasonable excuse.

As well as conducting investigations into benefit offences the section is also proactive in using all appropriate measures to recover Housing Benefit Overpayments. 

One of the cases which the council investigated with the DWP featured recently on BBC’s Saints and Scroungers programme.

A query was received from a London Borough about a disabled parking permit in London which was registered to a property in Denbighshire.

Enquiries in Denbighshire raised suspicions and the case  was referred to the DWP Organised Fraud Team.

As a result it was discovered that a person was using two identities and claiming from a number of properties in Wales, Manchester and London.

The false claims against various authorities amounted to over £150,000 in ten years. A Proceeds of Crime Order was made against him and to date Denbighshire have recovered over £5,000 of their debt.

Other significant cases included -

A claimant failed to declare capital from the sale of his father’s house and received a sentence of 30 months.

A nurse received a 12 month community order after failing to disclose that her husband was living with her.

A number of  claimants were found guilty of failing to promptly report a change in their circumstances which affected their benefits.

Councillor Julian Thompson-Hill, Cabinet Lead Member for Finance, said: "The majority of residents comply with the law. However, there is a minority of people who defraud the system by claiming public money they are not entitled to.

"To them, our message is clear. If you willingly defraud the Council, we will take action. Residents who only claim what they are entitled to have absolutely nothing to fear."

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