Hundreds charged with housing benefit fraud

MORE than 230 people were charged with housing benefit fraud in Rotherham during the last year.

Rotherham Council has recovered £2.52 million in overpayments of housing and council tax benefits made as a result of fraud or over claims, according to a new report.

Councillors will hear next week out of the hundreds of people charged during 2011/12, 32 were successfully prosecuted and a further 201 were either cautioned or issued with penalties.

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One person was jailed for six months for fraudulently claiming £30,000 in benefits over 10 years, while another was sentenced to 10 weeks in prison for falsely claiming more than £12,000.

The council also made nine successful prosecutions against fraudulent blue badge permit users.

The details are featured in the authority’s Fraud Report which has recently been published and will be discussed at a council meeting on Monday.

The report reveals that while the overall level of fraud remains very low, there does continue to be a significant number of housing benefit frauds committed across the borough.

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The council has warned that it will ‘robustly pursue’ suspected fraudsters and will take action to recover the authority’s resources where fraud has been proved.

Deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, Coun Jahangir Akhtar, welcomed the authority’s good performance in weeding out and successfully pursuing fraudsters.

He said: “Although the people who commit fraud are only a very small minority, they are attempting to deprive the honest majority of funds that would otherwise be available to them.”

“One pound lost to fraud means one pound less for public services. It is only right, therefore, that we should pursue those committing fraud and recover monies for the benefit of all.”

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“I am pleased that we have an excellent track record in achieving this. Fraud is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”

“This report shows the council remains vigilant to the risk of fraud and corruption.”

The seven-page report reveals that overall the authority investigated more than 1,000 potentially fraudulent cases in 2011/12.

It recovered £2.52 million in overpayments of housing and council tax benefits made as a result of fraud or over claims, compared to £2.45 million in 2010/11.

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Coun Alex Sangster, chair of Rotherham Council’s audit committee, welcomed the publication of the report.

He added: “It is a vitally important part of the council’s overall strategy to minimise the risk of fraud and corruption.”

“We will continue this work during this financial year including our continued participation in the National Fraud Initiative that takes place next month and other schemes that are vital to the on-going fight against fraud.”

Anyone wishing to report any suspicions in relation to benefit fraud should ring the Fraud Hotline for free on 0800 028 2080.