Benefit cheats cost county more than �1m

MORE than 250 Suffolk benefit cheats have been convicted for frauds totalling in excess of �1million over a two-and-a-half-year period.

Colin Adwent

MORE than 250 Suffolk benefit cheats have been convicted for frauds totalling in excess of �1million over a two-and-a-half-year period.

Between them Ipswich and St Edmundsbury borough councils, and Suffolk Coastal, Babergh, Mid Suffolk, Waveney and Forest Heath district councils prosecuted 261 cheats from January 1, 2007 to the end of May this year.

The total value of the housing and council tax benefit frauds came to �1,132,784.

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The figures emerged after a Freedom of Information request by the East Anglian Daily Times.

Investigators in Ipswich unearthed the highest financial total for false claims, which amounted to �273,209. They also secured 52 convictions against fraudsters.

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The next largest was that of Waveney District Council which prosecuted 56 people for a total of �255,601.

Benefit cheats in Suffolk Coastal also broke through the �200,000 barrier with 27 being convicted after, in effect, stealing a total of �217,222.

Following the emergence of the figures, a stark warning has been issued to anyone thinking of cheating the taxpayer.

Max Stocker, spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council, said: "If someone who is about to embark upon benefit fraud thinks they can hide behind others that do it, or feel they are justified or beyond the reach of the law, then they had better think again.

"Benefit fraud is thought by some to be a soft, easy option but the reality is very different.

“With new advances in technology, our well-resourced fraud unit at Ipswich Borough Council is able to combat even the most determined of fraudsters.

“The processes involved now mean that offenders leave themselves open to fines and imprisonment. So, my message is don't even try to cheat, because we will catch you."

One of the largest single prosecutions in Suffolk over the last two years was at Ipswich Crown Court where Julie Button was jailed for 18 months after fiddling benefits totalling �37,500.

In addition to housing and council tax benefit, Button, of Rattlesden Close, Stowmarket, also made false income support claims.

At her sentencing in March this year Judge Peter Thompson branded the 43-year-old an unscrupulous sponger.

Button's fraud dated back to October 2001.

After the mother-of-two was jailed, Evelyn Crossland, head of revenues and benefits for Mid Suffolk District Council, said: “This outcome should send a clear message that benefit fraud simply does not pay.”

Housing and council tax benefit fraud Jan 07 to May 09

N Ipswich Borough Council �273,209

N Waveney District Council �255,601

N Suffolk Coastal District Council �217,222

N Babergh District Council �135,447

N Mid Suffolk District Council �93,787

N St Edmundsbury Borough Council �92,744

N Forest Heath District Council �64,774

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