FOCUS: Council cracks down on benefit fraudBy Laura Herbert
February 26, 2013
Thirty benefit fraudsters have been prosecuted in Wokingham borough in the last three years.
Since April 2011 more than £600,000 of fraudulent benefits have been identified by Wokingham Borough Council’s Investigations Team.
Chief reporter LAURA HERBERT found out more about the team’s work tackling benefit fraud.
Since its launch three years ago the Business Assurance Investigations Team has been cracking down on benefit fraudsters in Wokingham.
The five officers investigate all types of benefit fraud, with common offences including an undeclared partner, undeclared income, undeclared working, undeclared capital and failure to notify of a change in circumstance.
Victoria Jackson, senior investigations officer, said: “Fraud is not a victimless crime – it diverts vital resources away from the borough’s most vulnerable residents. Therefore the work of the Investigations Team is an essential element in the nationwide fight against fraud.”
Once investigators have enough evidence, the alleged fraudster is interviewed under caution before the case is sent to a sanctions panel, which decides on three penalties – a caution, a fixed fine called an administrative penalty or prosecution.
Those given a fine must pay back the money they illegally claimed, plus an additional 30 per cent of the housing and/or council tax benefit overpayment. The team also works to recover money stolen by fraudsters they prosecute.
Everyone who fraudulently claims housing benefit must pay back the money, regardless of their sanction and the council has an Overpayments Team dedicated to recovering any overpayment of benefit.
Miss Jackson said: “The sanction panel look at the evidence test and the public interest test and they take into account the circumstances and the amount of overpayment, to decide what action to take.”
To bring the fraudsters to justice the team works with partners including the police, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HMRC and the UK Border Agency.
Just as benefit entitlement is calculated, so is the overpayment.
The team recovers money owed by making weekly deductions from other ongoing benefits claimed anywhere in the UK at a rate set by DWP, and those not claiming benefits are sent an invoice asking for payment within 14 days, before a final demand is issued. If payment is still not received and no further contact is made, the fraudster can be taken to County Court and if needed, bailiffs may be used to obtain payment.
Miss Jackson said: “We use the full force of the law to recover all fraudulent overpayments.”
She added: “The reason for the team is to protect the public purse, protecting your money and make sure it goes to the right services.
“People play a vital role in reporting benefit fraudsters and if you suspect anyone of committing benefit fraud please do not hesitate to play a part in the fight against fraud by contacting our team.”
If you suspect someone of committing benefit fraud call the confidential hotline on 0800 454 240 or report it at www.wokingham.gov.uk/fraud.