Benefit cheats swindle £4.2m in north Essex in past five years

Benefit fraud

Benefit fraud - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Benefits cheats in north Essex have swindled more than £4.2million in the past five years.

Figures obtained by the East Anglian Daily Times following a freedom of information request reveal the shocking extent of money falsely claimed in benefits.

We asked Colchester Borough and Tendring and Braintree district councils how much had been fraudulently claimed from them, and how many cases of benefit fraud they had dealt with since 2010.

The authorities also supplied details of the number of these cases which had been taken to court, and the amount of money determined by the justice system to have been falsely claimed.

Often cases are dealt with through a caution or penalty, but in more complicated or serious frauds – or those denied by claimants – they result in a trial.

In total £4,243,709 has been fraudulently claimed across the three areas since April 2010, with just more than half of this taken through the courts (see below).

This is only for cases run by councils, and does not include cases brought by the Department for Work and Pensions for other benefits.

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Paul Honeywood, councillor for benefits at Tendring District Council, said: “If your circumstances change it is important you tell the council, as you may be in a position where you are receiving money you’re not entitled to, but you may be entitled to more money.

“It’s only a phone call and we don’t want people who are genuine to get caught in the trap.

“If people are cheating the system and deliberately trying to defraud taxpayers’ money we will pursue that rigorously because that is the right thing to do – at the end of the day they are stealing from the taxpayer.”

Paul Smith, Colchester borough councillor for business and resources, said: “Clearly any benefit fraud is not something any council can tolerate, and the money people are claiming illegally is money which could and should be better used for those in real need.

“That’s why Colchester Borough Council puts significant resources into combatting fraud, and as the figures demonstrate we have been successful in identifying and stopping considerable amounts of fraud over the years.

“We make sure we do take action against the small minority acting illegally, and seek to gain compensation.

“In the past couple of years we have undertaken a number of initiatives which have led to the identification of a number of cases, some of which have been going on for a considerable period of time which means the amounts are larger.

“While 56 cases is too many, compared to the 10-12,000 people claiming in Colchester it is a very small percentage.”

David Bebb, councillor for performance and efficiency at Braintree District Council, said: “As an authority it is our responsibility to protect the public purse and ensure fraudulent claims are recovered, and we have been very successful in taking benefit cheats to court and recovering the money from them.

“However, this does cost the authority money, money that could be better spent, and it’s important to remember that benefits are there to support those most vulnerable in our society, so those that abuse the system are not simply stealing from the council, but effectively from their own communities.”

Cases and amounts of benefit fraud by council:

Tendring District Council

Total: £1,372,665 (£826,599 through prosecutions).

Only two prosecutions brought by the council in the past five years resulted in not guilty verdicts.

Year: Total fraudulently claimed (total cases) – Total falsely claimed agreed by courts (prosecutions) – Number of cautions/administrative penalties

2010/11: £313,443 (69 cases) – £226,189 (32 prosecutions) – 8/29

2011/12: £293,647 (95 cases) – £179,751 (26 prosecutions) – 40/29

2012/13: £323,532 (74 cases) – £143,253 (18 prosecutions) – 32/24

2013/14: £225,844 (39 cases) – £127,188 (13 prosecutions) – 10/16

2014/15*: £216,199 (12 cases) – £150,218 (7 prosecutions) – 0/5

*(as of November)

Braintree District Council

Total: £1,669,845 (£732,999 in prosecutions)

Year: Total fraudulently overpaid (total cases) – Total fraudulently overpaid agreed by courts (prosecutions)

2010/11: £297,657 (144 cases) – £125,538 (32 prosecutions)

2011/12: £310,508 (113 cases) – £83,761 (8 prosecutions)

2012/13: £242,817 (97 cases) – £33,111 (8 prosecutions)

2013/14: £398,615 (92 cases) – £224,719 (16 prosecutions)

2014/15*: £420,248 (87 cases) – £265,870 (28 prosecutions)

*(as of end of November)

Colchester Borough Council

Total: £1,201,199.48 (£589,702.93 in prosecutions)

No prosecutions in the past four years have been unsuccessful, while four are ongoing.

Year: Total fraudulently overpaid (total cases) – Total fraudulently overpaid agreed by courts (prosecutions) – Number of cautions/administrative penalties

2010/11: £183,430.15 (47 cases) – £115,626.72 (11 prosecutions) – 2/34

2011/12: £111,139.38 (38 cases) – £81,246.55 (8 prosecutions) – 2/28

2012/13: £352,819.64 (37 cases) – £129,327.59 (17 prosecutions) – 2/18

2013/14: £553,810.31 (56 cases) – £263,502.07 (33 prosecutions) – 0/23

North Essex total: £4,243,709.48 (£2,149,300.93 prosecutions)

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