BENEFIT fraudsters bilked Huntingdonshire District Council of more than £550,000 last year – but the likelihood of getting caught is rising rapidly, the council says. HDC s fraud investigators work closely with sleuths from government agencies, particular
BENEFIT fraudsters bilked Huntingdonshire District Council of more than £550,000 last year - but the likelihood of getting caught is rising rapidly, the council says.
HDC's fraud investigators work closely with sleuths from government agencies, particularly the Department for Work and Pensions, and the police, and have powers to obtain information from other sources.
"Each year we are uncovering more and more instances of fraud," said a spokesman. "Investigations can uncover, for example, instances of money tucked away in a bank account that the council hasn't been informed about, or working for cash in hand."
In 2001-2002, the council identified £75,000 of fraudulently-claimed benefits and 17 people were cautioned, fined or prosecuted.
By 2007-2008 this had risen to £552,000, for which 125 people were cautioned, received financial penalties or were prosecuted, while 275 investigations resulted in reductions or complete withdrawal of benefits.
"In financial terms this meant the team prevented the equivalent of £9,500 each week being paid to people who were not entitled to the money," HDC said. "This was a total saving of £494,000 of money that comes from the public purse as it is funded by local and national taxation.
"All the money claimed fraudulently has to be paid back and people whose cases are proved in court also have to pay the council's costs and may also have fines imposed. Some cases have resulted in prison sentences."
Councillor Terry Rogers, executive councillor for finance and environment, said: "Claiming money you are not entitled to is stealing. Our people will do all they can to help those who are entitled to benefits to claim what is rightfully theirs, but we will not tolerate cheats, and will use all the powers available to us to uncover fraud."
The council warned benefit cheats to come clean before they are found out.
"If you are one those people committing fraud, you have a number of options: you can come forward to discuss your claims with a member of our investigations team, you can stop claiming now - although this is no guarantee that the council won't find out later - or you can wait until you are caught, after which you may end up a criminal record or fine as well having to pay back the benefit you have stolen."
A Ramsey woman who failed to declare bank accounts held by her and maintenance payments from her former husband was overpaid £13,000 in benefits and had to pay this back from her capital. She received a 24-month community sentence and was ordered to pay costs of £370. Sixteen similar cases were identified involving capital of more than £750,000 that had been concealed by people to claim benefit.
A woman from St Neots, who failed to declare that her partner, who lived with her, was in full time work, was overpaid £10,800. She was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work in the community and pay the council's costs.
The council received 157 allegations about people who claimed benefit as single parents but had undisclosed partners living with them. Many of these reports came from members of the public, HDC warned.
A woman from the Huntingdon area who worked for four years without declaring it and was overpaid £12,300 was sentenced to four months imprisonment. Last year, six people received prison sentences or suspended sentences of three months or longer for benefit fraud committed in Huntingdonshire.
INFORMATION: If you know someone who is committing fraud, contact HDC in confidence on 01480 388188, by e-mail at Benefit@huntsdc.gov.uk or write to Benefit Fraud, Directorate of Commerce and Technology, Pathfinder House, St Mary's Street, Huntingdon, PE29 3TN.