Benefit fraud cases rocket in Doncaster

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RECORD numbers of prosecutions for benefit fraud have been carried out in Doncaster after millions of pounds were overclaimed last year.

Official figures show £2.99 million worth of in overpayments of housing and council tax benefits were uncovered last year, a rise from £2.83 million the previous year.

Officers at Doncaster Council say the increase is due to fraud and overclaiming.

Enforcement officers had 1,234 potential fraud cases referred to them and investigated 1,137 of those.

There were 57 successful prosecutions for housing and council tax benefits fraud, which was up from 38 the previous year. The previous two years had seen 31 and 42 prosecutions respectively.

There was also an increase in formal cautions, with 104 issued last year, compared with 65 in 2010-11.

Simon Wiles, council director of finance and corporate services, said: “We recognise most of our residents are eligible and honest when it comes to claiming Housing and Council Tax benefits. Many of the overpayments are as a result of late notification of changes in circumstances by claimants.

“However, some are as a result of fraud committed by a minority of residents, and it is our responsibility as the local authority to take firm action over all types of fraud.

“Together with other local partners and agencies, we will always offer support to anyone who may be struggling financially and court action is always a final option.

“However, as the report figures prove, our message is clear and simple. We will pursue money owed to us through all channels available and will ensure anyone committing these types of offences will not get away with it.”

A council report into the problems, which goes before councillors next week, warns in the current economic position the authority might expect to see an increased risk of losses through fraud and corruption, as individuals and organisations look for ways to relieve financial difficulties.

It said that fact increases the importance of minimising the risk of fraud.

It states: “It is important we stay on our guard, as any public sector body can ill afford to suffer losses due to fraud when our own budgets are so constrained.

“The council paid more than £113 million to housing and council tax benefits claimants during the year. Like any organisation of this size, the council can be vulnerable to fraud and corruption, both from within and outside the organisation. The council aims to minimise its risk of loss due to fraud and corruption, recognising that any loss incurred may be borne by the honest majority.

“Any instances of fraud, corruption and other dishonesty endanger the achievement of the council’s policies and objectives as they divert its limited resources from the provision of services to the people of Doncaster. They also undermine the council’s reputation and threaten its financial standing. Consequently the council is determined to eliminate fraud and corruption.”

Prosecutions this year included one woman who was jailed for three months for illegally claiming more than £18,000.

She had claimed she lived alone and was referred for investigation after information was uncovered showing she lived with her partner.

She was asked to come in was for an interview, and then changed her details, telling officials that her partner had recently moved in with her.

She denied her partner had been living with her before that point.

But officers were able to show a history of fraudulent claims totalling more than £18,000 and she was found guilty of fraud after a trial at Doncaster Crown Court.