DWP Investigators Film Benefit Claimant Climbing Stairs

It is no secret that the DWP sometimes goes to quite extraordinary lengths in verifying the circumstances declared by claimants. Over recent months, we have seen a couple of examples of the ingenuity that is sometimes employed in their methods. Last month, we discussed a covert operation they staged to carry out surveillance on a young couple on the Isle of Man, and who can forget the furore surrounding the investigation of Great British Bake Off winner Sophie Faldo?

The latest claimant to be caught out by the eagle eye of the investigators has been a Birmingham forklift driver by the name of Neil Shepherd. He has been found guilty of falsely claiming more than £50,000 in Disability Living Allowance – and he was caught on camera.

What happened?

Mr Shepherd, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, suffered an accident at work in the late 1990s that resulted in the partial amputation of his left arm. From 2001 to 2016, he had been claiming Disability Living Allowance. On his self-assessment, he told the DWP that he had extreme difficulty walking and that he needed assistance to carry out basic domestic tasks.

He had been working as a forklift driver throughout this period, and DWP investigators visited his workplace and viewed CCTV footage, which showed him climbing two flights of stairs to access a staff canteen.

In his defence, Mr Shepherd said that his condition is subject to change, and that it is impractical to provide the DWP with week-by-week updates. He acknowledged that he failed to provide information regarding his changed circumstances and has committed to pay the money back – he and his wife are now selling their family home in order to raise the money to do so.

The court verdict

Mr Shepherd appeared at Stafford Crown Court last month, in a case that had taken over two years to come to trial. Judge John Gosling had a degree of sympathy for him, not least because the case had been hanging over him for such an inordinate length of time, a situation which he described as “entirely unsatisfactory.”

Regarding the case itself, the judge commented that the pre-sentence report acknowledged that Mr Shepherds mistake was that he did not realise the importance of reporting changing circumstances to the DWP. He said: “I don’t think this is a concerted and protracted fraud.”

This kind of offence carries a potential custodial sentence, but given Mr Shepherd’s previous good character and his commitment to repay the money, he was sentenced to a nine month prison term, suspended for 12 months.

After sentencing, Mr Shepherd and his wife Jo were greeted by local reporters. He expressed his regret and embarrassment at the whole situation, but added that the complexity of the system can make it difficult for claimants to follow the rules and make the necessary disclosures.

Clamping down on fraud

The DWP saw the whole case as a victory for their investigative powers. A spokesperson said: “We are determined to catch those we suspect of fraudulently claiming benefits by following up on tip-offs, undertaking surveillance and working with local councils.”

But was Mr Shepherd really a fraudster, or did he simply take his eye off the ball when dealing with his disability claim? Nobody, not even the prosecuting lawyer, disputed the fact that he is an amputee, that he has MS and that he is subject to cognitive problems. The fact that the judge was also sympathetic suggests that this was, perhaps, a case of investigators chasing an easy target.

Report any change

The case serves as a reminder that it is essential to report changes in your circumstances to the DWP. If you have any concerns regarding your own claim, or are under investigation for any reason, get in touch with us at Hylton-Potts.

The quicker you call, the sooner we can help you reach the best resolution to the problem, so give us a ring on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

We would be interested in your comments, please leave them in the section below.