People are being urged to inform on benefits cheats who cost Vale taxpayers £440,000 last year.
As a result of benefit fraud in the last financial year the district council convicted 12 people, cautioned 29 claimants, fined five people and warned 11 fraudsters.
Team manager Mary Coyle said benefits cheats are ‘picking the pockets of law-abiding taxpayers’.
She said: “If these people went into a shop and stole the amount of money they fraudulently claim, people would be outraged and say ‘my goodness, they can’t do that!’
“Benefits fraudsters frustrate members of the public and annoy those legitimately claiming benefits.
“It is a system which is there to support the vulnerable in times of need.
“Cheats also lead to a lack of faith in the system and, at a time where everyone is having to tighten their belts, they are just adding to the pressure.”
The benefits investigation team is cracking down on fraudsters, with a whole range of tools at their fingertips to help them track down culprits.
These include carrying out surveillance, checking people’s bank records, obtaining witness statements, conducting interviews and monitoring the electoral register. The team is even able to ask employers for a list of staff.
Before doing this sufficient evidence must be gathered but once caught, benefits cheats can look forward to a whole range of punishments, from cautions and fines to community service and even jail.
Investigation officer Clive Allen said: “If benefits cheats continue doing what they are doing, there’s a good chance they will be found out.
“They could then end up in court, and even with a custodial sentence. Whichever way the case would go, they would end up with a criminal record if found guilty regardless.”
There are a whole range of ways people are found to be cheating the system, the most common of which is ‘living together cases’.
An example is a single mum claiming housing benefit and council tax benefit, despite the fact she has a man living with her. If she did not make the council aware of her changes in circumstance, this is benefit fraud.
Other types of cheats include those who fail to mention inheritances, lie about their savings, or have second homes abroad or in the country which they have not declared.
People have also been known to illegally ‘sub let’ their homes to tenants, despite claiming rent from the council.
On an annual basis, the council pays out £38,902,000 in housing benefit to 10,000 residents, and £8,860,000 in council tax benefit to 12,000 people.
Mrs Coyle added that the more information people can give when informing the team about suspected benefit cheats the better, as it gives officers more evidence to back up their investigations.
Councillor Neil Blake, Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “We have a responsibility to safeguard the interests of those honest, law abiding residents who pay their taxes and claim those benefits to which they’re entitled. People who falsely claim benefits are thieves. They are robbing the system and jeopardising the supply of services and the provision of benefits to the vast majority of the residents of the Vale who are using the system properly.
“We work very closely with government agencies to ensure that cheats are caught and prosecuted. I’d like to send a message out to those people who think that they can get away with it - you won’t, you will get caught.
“The summons that you see in this article has your name on it. The Bucks Herald, and other local newspapers, is providing a valuable service. It’s reporting successful prosecutions, including details of fines and costs, so that, hopefully, the message will eventually filter through - don’t even think about cheating the system.”
> Anyone with information that can help catch a benefit cheat should call AVDC’s confidential hotline on 01296 585570.
Benefit fraud can also be reported on the council’s website (www.aylesburyvaledc.gov.uk). People do not have to give their name and they can be assured of complete confidentiality at all times.
> For help and advice with housing or council tax benefit, call AVDC on 01296 585618 or email email@example.com