Thousands paid to cheats

MORE than £120,000 in overpayments were made to benefit fraud cheats in Ipswich last year, it emerged today.

MORE than £120,000 in overpayments were made to benefit fraud cheats in Ipswich last year, it emerged today.

New figures show that between April 2007 and March 2008, Ipswich Borough Council is aware of handing out £128,146 more than it should have in benefit payments.

The true figure, including overpayments yet to be detected could run far higher.

A report into the issue shows that a total of 433 cases were opened by investigators in the 12-month period which led to 20 prosecutions and 52 official cautions. Three prosecutions were unsuccessful.

John Carnall, deputy leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said benefit fraud occurs for a variety of reasons.

These include the council not being informed of a change in circumstances of a person claiming benefit or an error in calculations by council staff.

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He said the authority has made good progress in eradicating overpayment errors in the past two years, improving accuracy from 93 per cent to 97 pc.

However he said there are still people who attempt to con the system by continuing to claim cash they are not entitled to when their circumstances change.

“”The bulk of overpayments are really down to people not telling us when their circumstances change.

“Most people tell us but often as immediately as would be helpful.

“Some don't tell us at all and that's where fraud emerges.”

Mr Carnall said the fear is that with the current economic situation, more people will look to con the system as they struggle to make ends meet.

“We have already had signs that more people are looking for benefits than was the case a year ago.

“I would expect that figure to increase as the economic position gets worse.

“We are now in a period of zero economic growth at the moment and unemployment has gone up nationally and that is bound to have an impact on our benefit figures.”

Is enough done to catch benefit cheats? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk