Warning issued to benefit cheats

BENEFIT fraudsters have today been warned that they will face tough punishments if caught flouting the law.

BENEFIT fraudsters have today been warned that they will face tough punishments if caught flouting the law.

Ipswich Borough Council is taking a tough stance against benefit fraud and its investigations team has successfully prosecuted a number of cases in the last few months.

One of the latest cases to come to court was Julie Clarke, a 28-year-old mother of two, who pleaded guilty to claiming benefit while living with her partner, Alan Gibbs, and claiming benefit for a property which her partner owned.

Clarke, formerly of Tomline Road, Ipswich, told the council she was a single mother and that her landlord lived at a separate address.

The overpayment during a 30-month period exceeded £20,000 for housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support.

At Ipswich Crown Court she was given a 26-week custodial sentence, which was suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work and pay costs of £50.

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The council claims the case is an example of their fight against this sort of crime.

A council spokesman said: “We are continuing to develop procedures to combat benefit fraud.

“People seem to think that when they get caught out committing benefit fraud that all they have to do is pay back the money and that's the end of the matter. It couldn't be further from the truth; our remit is collect sufficient evidence to take an offender to court and upon conviction will end up with a criminal record. Benefit fraud is a criminal offence, it's stealing from the ordinary person in the street and that's why we always consider prosecution in the first instance.”

In 2007/2008 the team dealt with 433 cases of suspected benefit fraud. The council issued 52 cautions and pursued 20 prosecutions. The council currently has 11 cases awaiting prosecution and more pending for hearing later in the year.

Detection rates are improving thanks to new data sharing arrangements between the council and a range of government departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs, and banks.

Do you think enough is being done to catch benefit fraudsters? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Other recent cases:

A 41-year-old woman from Hogarth Road who was convicted of being overpaid £2,274 after she failed to report her employment with a local firm. She was given 150 hours community service and told to pay legal costs.

Another Ipswich woman from Coltsfoot Road who failed to disclose to the council that she had worked for more than two years while still claiming benefits was convicted in February this year. She had falsely claimed £4,874 between 2005 and 2007 and was ordered to complete 100 hours unpaid work and was placed under a 12-month supervision order.

In April this year, a 58-year-old woman from Mallard Way pleaded guilty to failing to report capital that she had in a savings account. The court heard that she had been overpaid more than £2,000. She failed to attend court and was arrest on a warrant and brought before magistrates in Ipswich. She received a 12-month sentence, which was suspended and also told to pay legal costs.

A 68-year-old woman from Nacton Road who claimed benefit but failed to report she had more than £16,000 in various bank account was fined £365 in July after it was found she had falsely claimed £6,841. She was also told to pay toward legal costs.

In June, a resident of Forfar Close was found to have failed to disclose that she had a working partner living with her. A joint investigation between the borough council and the Department of Work and Pensions found that she had falsely claimed £7,367. She was ordered to repay the amount and told to complete 90 hours unpaid work.

Ipswich Borough Council's investigations team can be contacted by calling the Fraud Hotline on 01473 433999 during office hours or by visiting the Customer Services Centre at Ipswich Town Hall.

Reports can also be made via the internet by visiting www.ipswich.gov.uk. Alternatively people can write to Benefit Investigations, Grafton House, 15 - 17 Russell Road, Ipswich, IP1 2DE, explaining all the details.

All investigations are treated in confidence and the informant remains anonymous.