Handling of benefit cheats is set to be considered


Benefit fraud prosecutions are to be considered by a Central Beds Council committee on Monday.

At its meeting the council’s audit committee will be looking particularly at how it considers possible prosecutions of benefit cheats.

When deciding whether to pursue criminal proceedings the committee is recommending that the council considers carefully whether there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of a conviction.

Careful consideration should also be made as to whether a prosecution is in the public interest, the committee will recommend.

In his report prepared for the meeting Charles Warboys, chief finance officer stresses the importance of considering the wider ramifications of each case before proceeding with possible prosecutions.

The report states: “Public interest factors which are considered include the amount of the overpayment and the duration of the offence, any abuse of position or privilege, any previous incidence of fraud, whether there are grounds for believing that the offence is likely to be continued or repeated, based on any history of recurring conduct or whether the claimant is elderly or suffering from significant mental or physical ill health.

“We do not prosecute where we believe a genuine error has been made by the claimant.”

In less serious cases the council also has the option of imposing a Simple Caution.

These are usually given when the overpayment that has been made is less than £2,000, as per guidelines given by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Recent cases of successful prosecutions have included that of a parish councillor who failed to declare two private pensions and two periods of employment.

Mr S had been claiming housing benefit and council tax benefit and was sentenced to a six-month curfew with £1,000 costs.

In another case a Mrs AB made a claim to housing benefit and council tax benefit and did not declare that she was the owner of any land or property here or abroad

Following an anonymous tip-off the council discovered that she did in fact own a villa in Spain.

Following an interview under caution she provided a fake valuation stating that the villa was worth less than £16,000, the maximum capital limit for benefit claims.

She then pretended to put the villa on the market for €19,500 but the estate agent in Spain confirmed that she declined to sell the property for this amount.

A council valuation concluded that the property was actually worth £195,000 and Mrs AB was sentenced to four months in prison.