Undercover operation to catch Sheffield benefit fraudsters

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tip-offs, audits and even covert surveillance work are helping to catch hundreds of benefit fraudsters as Sheffield Council cracks down on a problem which is costing almost £1 million a year.

The public are encouraged to report offenders, and the council has a small team which will then work gathering proof.

Sometimes, that can involve spying on people suspected of crimes such as illegally claiming benefits when working, or claiming single person’s council tax discount despite having a live-in partner.

Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “People who commit benefit fraud are depriving the council of cash which could be used to fund vital services. They are effectively taking money off every single person in this city.

“Every penny counts in the current economic climate and we will continue to take action to crack down on fraud.”

Covert surveillance work is allowed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

The council mounted surveillance 85 times between January 2008 and the end of June last year.

There were between 20 and 30 cases a year - including 39 allegations of housing benefit fraud, for which the council has six staff who usually work with the Department for Work and Pensions.

People can report benefit fraud by calling the council’s Benefit Fraud Line on 0800 083 7060 or emailing benefits@sheffield.gov.uk with ‘Counter Fraud’ as the subject.

The council has revealed soaring numbers of Sheffield benefits cheats fraudulently claimed nearly £1 million of payments in just 12 months - while honest, cash-strapped householders struggle in the recession.

The problem is estimated to have cost the council £907,000 in council tax and housing benefit fraud in 2010/11.

Investigations identified 312 cases, 108 of which resulted in prosecution.