Council Workers Masterminded £1 Million Fraud
The media is never shy when it comes to publishing sensationalist articles about individuals playing the system to claim more benefits that their entitlements allow. Typically, they are shown as criminal fraudsters who are too lazy to make a living and are trying to live off the hard work of others.
In most cases, the real story behind the headlines is quite different and has nothing to do with greed or criminal masterminds. The people are typically everyday individuals who have been pushed into desperate measures in order to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Their actions are not right, but anyone with a scintilla of empathy will have a degree of sympathy for their plight.
The enemy within
The most recent article to hit the headlines, however, is a different matter entirely, and concerns fraud from within the benefits system itself. Seven senior benefits assessors have been charged with a host of offences including fraud by abuse of power, money laundering, possession of fake identity documents and other crimes.
The charges relate to a mature and robust system of fraud that the criminals had been operating for more than ten years, and by which they had siphoned more than £1 million from councils cross London, including Barking & Dagenham, Lambeth and Kingston.
Abuse of trust
The assessors are Rahela Asfaha, who worked initially at Lambeth Council and then at Barking and Dagenham, defrauding both, Natasha Frances, Cassandra Johnson, Jessica Bartley and Menelik Cowan, all from Lambeth Council, Hugh Junior Small, from Kingston Council, and Alexandra Williams, from Barking & Dagenham Council.
All seven appeared before magistrates at Westminster Magistrates Court last month, where Prosecutor Carly Loftus told newspaper reporters the charges relate to housing benefit fraud. She explained that they submitted false claims using fake identities and arranged for these benefits to be paid into bank accounts set up using the false names.
She said that the scheme involved “significant planning and abuse of a position of trust.”
The seven assessors obtained passports in the names of fictitious claimants and used these to establish the bank accounts.
Magistrate Chairman Victoria Readman declined jurisdiction and referred the matter to Crown Court where the case will continue over the coming weeks.
More inside involvement
The level of corruption, with seven senior assessors involved, sounds bad enough, but the scourge runs even deeper. Appearing alongside the seven were five more council employees who were also involved in helping to launder the money through the fake accounts. These were Mgeini Khanye Samuel Hammond, Donna Francis, Kyeshia Strachan, and Derek Williams.
Powers of sentencing
Ms Loftus explained that the powers of sentencing at the Magistrates Court are insufficient for a crime of this magnitude, which is the reasoning behind the matter being referred to Southwark Crown Court. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for 19 September, but the matter is likely to run for some weeks before sentencing takes place.
More red faces for councils
The council authorities in question are yet to make any formal comment on the subject, but there are certain to be questions raised as to whether the corruption runs deeper and, indeed, higher.
This is just the latest in a series of disasters for those running the benefits system. Just last month, we discussed how they first paid out more than £1.5 billion in over payments, then dived in with a heavy handed approach at trying to claim it back from perplexed claimants.
Prior to that, we had the Concentrix scandal, in which HMRC appointed a gung ho and aggressive external company to look at the tax credit system. That resulted in the world and his wife being accused of fraud, and led to misery and heartache for thousands.
Who are the real criminals?
This latest news suggests that the biggest criminals are not those who are attempting to feed and clothe their families and provide warmth and a roof over their heads, but the very officers who are supposed to be managing and controlling the benefits system. It sounds like the stuff of fiction, and it would almost be funny if it wasn’t for the fact that it is such a serious abuse of power and trust. After all, this matter affects the lives of so many families who are reliant on income support and housing benefit to meet their everyday survival needs.
HMRC and the councils in London and farther afield are always quick to assume that the claimants they are supposed to be serving are committing fraud. To many, it comes as no great surprise to hear that those who are so quick to accuse should instead take a close look in the mirror to find out where the missing millions are really going.
Here to help – more than ever
At Hylton Potts, we have a long and successful history of helping individuals who have been accused of benefit fraud to put across their side of the story and achieve the best possible outcome in what can be difficult and stressful circumstances. However, in the case of these 12 corrupt council officials, we will not be volunteering our services!
We are always eager to ensure claimants are treated fairly and equitably, and we pride ourselves on taking a non-judgemental and objective view. It is fair to say that this latest debacle on the part of the housing authorities has only served to strengthen our resolve and to confirm that our approach is the right one.
We deal with HMRC and the benefits office so that you don’t have to. If you are facing accusations or have received a letter regarding overpayments, fraud allegations or any other issue that worries you, please get in touch with us.
A member of our expert team will be more than happy to discuss your situation and provide some no-nonsense advice and support, so please give us a call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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