FIFTY people in Huntingdonshire were prosecuted for benefit fraud last year following more than 300 tip-offs from aggrieved members of the public. In total, Huntingdonshire District Council s investigators probed more than 350 allegations of fraud, two-th

FIFTY people in Huntingdonshire were prosecuted for benefit fraud last year following more than 300 tip-offs from aggrieved members of the public.

In total, Huntingdonshire District Council's investigators probed more than 350 allegations of fraud, two-thirds of which were found to be justified, involving a total of nearly £630,000.

In all, there were more than 700 reports of possible Council Tax benefit and housing benefit fraud, with many other tip-offs coming from Government departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions with which HDC investigators work closely.

Two out of every three investigations resulted in benefit being stopped or reduced. Fifty of the most serious cases resulted in criminal prosecutions with prison sentences of up to 12 months being imposed. A further 70 people received cautions or had to pay fines to the council on top of repaying the benefit they had claimed, HDC said yesterday.

"Everyone who is found to have been overpaid benefit as a result of fraud has to repay all the benefit they falsely claimed. In 2008/09 over £600,000 of fraud was identified with further savings of £12,000 per week from benefit that would have continued in payment if it was not for the investigations undertaken by council investigators," a spokesman added.

Although the number of investigations reduced in 2008/09 compared with the previous year, the value of the fraud identified and stopped has been increasing steadily - from £470,000 in 2006/07 to £629,000 in 2008/09.

Successful investigations during the past year included a Ramsey woman who claimed benefit as a single parent for two years but failed to tell the council that her partner lived with her. As a result she was overpaid £11,000. An investigation took place following a routine check by the council, as a result of which she received an eight-week prison sentence.

A St Ives man who claimed benefit as he was out of work failed to tell the council he was running a business from his home address and was overpaid £15,000. A report from a member of the public resulted in an investigation that found the business trading and making a profit and undisclosed bank accounts. He received a 12-week prison sentence.

A St Neots couple who claimed benefit because of their low income failed to declare bank accounts holding capital of over £100,000. They were caught thanks to a report from a member of the public saying they were overpaid £900. The court issued a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered the benefit be repaid immediately.

Julia Barber, HDC's head of customer services said: "If you're claiming benefit and you know you're not entitled to it because you work, or your partner lives with you, or you have money in savings accounts, or you have income that you conceal from the council, it's only a matter of time before we find out.

"Benefit fraud is a crime and, if you're prosecuted, you'll get a criminal record, you could go to prison, and you will have to pay the council's costs for bringing the matter to court. All the cases that go to court are made known to the public.

"If you are concerned about your claim call 01480 388480, or you could just wait for us to call - but by then it may to be too late."

INFORMATION: If you know someone who is claiming benefit to which they are not entitled, contact the fraud investigation team on 01480 388480 or call the 24-hour confidential fraud hot-line on 01480 388188.