Benefit fraudsters cost Hartlepool taxpayers more than £400,000 last year.
That is how much people illegally claimed from the council and the Department of Work and Pensions.
In 2013-14 the council’s Benefits Investigations Team investigated 511 cases of benefit fraud which resulted in overpayments of £418,000.
Eight people were taken to court, seven were fined and 28 offenders were cautioned.
> So lets see… 511 investgations, 8 taken to court. Mathematics was never my strong point, but isn’t that something like only 1.6% of the investigations were actually taken to court ?
Another way to put it would be 503 people out of 511 – 98.4% – investigated were NOT taken to court.
Even if you subtract those 28 who were cautioned (what for ? Nothing they could be taken to court for, evidently) that’s still 475 out of 511 who appear to be innocent.
It covered money that claimants were not entitled to for help with housing and council tax.
The fraudulent claims resulted from a mix of sources such as tip-offs from the public, and irregularities noticed by benefit assessment staff and in computer systems.
> 475 out of 511 innocent. How many of those tip-offs from the public were malicious ? How many of those irregularities noticed by benefit assessment staff and in computer systems were actually errors by the staff ?
But council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said the figure represents a tiny fraction of the millions paid out in benefits by the council and the authority does everything it can to reclaim the cash.
John Morton, the council’s assistant chief finance officer, added:
“The council is committed to supporting vulnerable households across welfare benefits they are entitled to receive.
“Equally, the council is committed to preventing fraudulent claims and protecting public resources.”
Coun Akers-Belcher added:
“In the grand scheme of things the council pays out around £50million in housing and council tax benefit over the year.
“As an authority we collect over 99 per cent of council tax. The overpayments are not written off.
“If an absconder leaves the system and they reappear the money they owe is written back in.
“It is never completely written off.”
From July 1, the Department Work and Pensions (DWP) will investigate housing and council tax benefit fraud through the new Single Fraud Investigation Service (SFIS).
The DWP has approached the council about identifying benefit investigation staff to transfer to the new national service.
But the council has refused to transfer its two investigation officers because the SFIS will not probe abuses of the Local Council Tax Support Scheme.
The scheme sees the council pays out £11.7million a year to 14,500 people to limit cuts to their council tax benefits.
Mr Morton said:
“It would create a risk of criticism to the reputation of the council and potentially lead to an increase in attempted fraud activity against the council tax support scheme.”
Coun Akers-Belcher added:
“It is really important to keep a counter fraud presence in our own establishment rather than rely on the DWP to deliver services.
“We would also be reneging on our responsibilities under the Local Government Act.”
In another DWP scheme, the council will be financially rewarded for helping to reduce housing benefit fraud as part of the Fraud and Error Reduction Incentive Scheme.
> I’m suprised they’re not offering cash incentives for tip offs from the public as well… grass up your neighbour and win money.
Several years ago I was investigated because apparently someone tipped the dole off that I was working while claiming. And to be fair I was – I was working on a New Deal scheme ! Collapse of case.
I never did find out who the malicious informer was, though.
It will be up to the council, which will receive £14,000 start-up funding, how it goes about uncovering fraud and errors by claimants.
But Fens and Rossmere Labour Councillor Alan Clark said there was a misconception among the public how much benefit fraudsters cost the country compared to big business tax evaders.
> A misconception carefully fostered by the DWP, politicians and sections of the media.
“I read that there are 400 tax inspectors going after tax evaders and 14,000 going after people committing benefit fraud,” he said.
“I think that is the wrong way around.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 02 Feb 2015
Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit programme may not deliver ‘value for money’, the Government spending watchdog has warned today (26 November).
The net value of Universal Credit is now estimated to be £14.5 billion – £1.7 billion lower than three years ago. The figure supposedly accounts for reduced welfare spending and other ‘societal benefits’.
However, the National Audit Office (NAO) said it’s too early to determine whether Universal Credit will deliver ‘value for money’ for taxpayers, “regardless of how it is implemented and the cost of doing so”.
Delays in the implementation of Universal Credit, changes to its delivery service and problems with IT mean additional costs for taxpayers, including £2.8 billion more in staffing costs (NAO estimate) and £130 million wasted on failed IT software.
The DWP is planning to start rolling out new IT software for Universal Credit in just 18 months. However, the NAO said the DWP “does not yet have a contingency plan” if the IT software (delivery service) experiences “delays or fails”. This in turn could result in yet more losses.
According to the NAO, if the new delivery service is delayed by just 6 months the value of Universal Credit “reduces by £2.3 billion due to lost societal benefits”.
Their report also criticised the government for failing to “stabilize senior leadership roles and responsibilities”. Universal Credit has seen seven chiefs in only two years, with the former DWP Work Service Director Neil Couling replacing Howard Shiplee less than two months ago.
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge MP (Labour) accused the DWP of “throwing good money after bad”, in botched attempts to fix Universal Credit.
Margaret Hodge said:
“The Department is throwing good money after bad by introducing a short-term fix with no adequate plan for delivery, insufficient skills and unclear milestones to measure progress against.”
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves added:
“The National Audit Office has cast grave doubts over the future of Universal Credit. This shocking report says the benefits of Universal Credit have fallen by £1.7 billion and that value for money, ‘can’t be determined’. It also confirms the roll-out of the new benefit won’t be complete even by 2019 as Iain Duncan Smith has repeatedly promised.
“The National Audit Office report is further evidence that the government’s handling of Universal Credit has been disastrous. It’s neither on time or on budget as the government promised. It’s yet another example of Tory Welfare Waste. Ministers must urgently get a grip of the huge waste and delays to this failing programme.”
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:
“The Department for Work & Pensions has reset Universal Credit on a sounder basis but at significant cost, by extending the time for implementation and choosing a more expensive approach.
“It is now vital that the Department quickly establish clear goals for delivering the programme, in terms of cost, time and functionality, against which it can be held to account.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith defended the botched roll-out, arguing it was “best” to properly test Universal Credit before expanding the programme to more jobcentres.
He added that poor families on Universal Credit would “get more money”. They “go into work quicker, they stay in work long and families will benefit enormously”.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 26 Nov 2014
The Government has launched yet another campaign to clamp down on fraudulent benefit claims, supposedly costing the taxpayer an estimated £16 million a year.
Voters are led to believe by politicians and the media that there is a ‘cheat’ and ‘scrounger’ lurking on every street, but the facts say otherwise.
The government and press have turned society against itself with relentless stories of the ‘fake’ or ‘cheat’ lurking in every neighbourhood. People have become amateur sleuths and doctors, who feel it is their civic duty to report their neighbour for benefit fraud without any solid evidence.
In many people’s minds, their hard-earned taxes gives them the right – with full backing from the government – to report people they think are claiming benefits fraudulently, even if they have no real evidence. Jealousy and selfishness from people who think their neighbour (perhaps even a friend) is getting something they aren’t, or don’t deserve?
The debate turns into a discussion about the deserving and undeserving poor, marked by a cultural shift of divide and rule and encouraged by a socially divisive government with little thought for the impact upon the poor and disabled.
We all accept that benefit fraud is a crime that should be dealt with accordingly. However, benefits fraud accounts for just 0.7% of the entire welfare budget. Claimant and DWP Error accounts for 1.4% of the benefit budget.
0.9% is underpaid and more than 6% remains completely unclaimed, but then you won’t read that in the press.
If the government’s interest is fairness and accuracy, then it would do better to tackle error and under-claiming. Although I’ve yet to see government advertising campaigns saying: “Health getting worse? Let us know – you might be eligible for more benefits”.
Benefit fraud investigators are waiting for (potentially malicious) calls from members of the public to decide who to investigate. Risk-profiling, on the other hand, means deciding to investigate someone because they are part of a high-risk group, which can be more accurate and is less affected by spurious or unfounded accusations.
Of concern is not just whether this is the best way to tackle benefit fraud, but also the culture of hate and suspicion it creates. Public perception is that benefit fraud is sky-high and this wrongly motivates people into reporting claimants.
Fraud investigators are receiving several thousands of accusations of benefit fraud from members of the public, and yet the vast majority are proven to be false or incorrect.
The culture of hatred and demonisation of benefit claimants is perpetuating high volumes of false accusations. It is an outrage that taxpayers are being led to believe a high percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent.
Both myself and Welfare Weekly responded by making Freedom of Information Requests to the DWP. What we found out left us speechless and infuriated.
The figures we obtained bring into question the government’s policy of encouraging members of the public to report alleged benefit fraud, through new advertising campaigns on TV and social networks.
Only 7.34% of benefit fraud cases reported by members of the public in the last year were substantiated by investigators, the remainder being incorrect or rejected due to a lack of evidence.
While investigators review allegations, those reported face potential benefit delays and may be forced to turn to food banks. The DWP says benefit sanctioning as a result of a malicious allegation is “unlikely to occur”.
DWP also admit they don’t record how many people make malicious allegations – mainly due to the anonymity they provide accusers – and take no action (legal or otherwise\ against those who do.
“We are unable to confirm the number of claimants who have been incorrectly reported to be claiming benefits fraudulently, and who have their benefit payments docked or suspended as a result of this information, because this information is not recorded.
“However an incident of this nature would be very unlikely to occur. The Department receives information from a number of sources that might warrant an investigation into a customer’s entitlement to benefit. This includes those from members of the public both anonymously and named.
“The referral management and investigation of benefit fraud process is robust and greatest of care is taken to corroborate the information to ensure we are directing our resources appropriately.
“When an investigation concludes the alleged fraud is unsubstantiated the investigation is closed with no further action. This can occur at any stage of the investigation and judgement of this is on a case by case basis and influenced only on the basis of established facts, gathered through these processes. This does not necessarily imply this as a malicious allegation.
“Without the facility to report benefit fraud anonymously there is a risk that the public may be deterred from providing valuable intelligence that assists in protecting the public purse.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 20 Nov 2014
The latest revelation of government double-standards has emerged as figures obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the BBC’s Newsnight programme show the government wasted between £1000 and £3000 a day on just 30 external consultants last year.
Ten were taken on by the Department of Transport, eight worked at the Ministry of Justice, five at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, four at the Home Office, two at the Treasury and one at the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence recently admitted that it had paid one consultant £3000 a day.
Separate figures show the MoD spent £137m on “technical consultants” last year – money that was not included in the government’s £317m total
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, told the BBC: “I think people will be extremely concerned about the number of consultants being paid vast amounts of money for…
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I have decided to try my hand at translation. The two languages are, grammatically, almost identical. I shall translate from Labour leader Ed Miliband’s English to my native tongue, plain English. I’m not qualified so there may be some debate on my translations. Some may call them clunky, or say I am over-stripping, that if I left in a little more bullshit the beauty of the original Miliband language might be preserved.
Ed Miliband has presented a Big Idea for cutting jobseekers allowance, based on the following maxim: “Britain’s young people who do not have the skills they need for work should be in training, not on benefits.”
No more jobseekers allowance for you, 18-to-21-Year-Old-Who-Hasn’t-Found-a-Job-Yet (I’ll call you “Tim” for short). Labour plan to end out-of-work benefits for around 100,000 Tims and replace it with another payment that’s means-tested according to parental income, and dependent on “training”. So, instead of getting money with which to buy frivolous things like food and shelter, Tim will be getting “training” and less money (because Tim’s parents are of course rich, by virtue of being old, and willing to give him as much as he needs).
This may seem simple but given the vast cultural differences between politicians and those of us who live in The Real World, some translation – and a massive slow clap – is needed.
They say: “Young people don’t have the skills for work”
Translation: “Businesses don’t want to spend money training entry-level employees, so demand that they come ready-made. They would be delighted to pass this cost on to the government if the government are ever stupid enough to offer.”
The recession and following job crisis is, in terms of recruitment, the best thing that ever happened to businesses. Remember the term “on-the-job training”? It went out of fashion in the last few years, when recruiters realised that they were buyers in a buyer’s market and could demand whatever the hell they wanted from potential employees, then sit back as thousands scrambled to appease them.
Hence ridiculous requests like “graduates with five years’ experience”, as a Central Saint Martin’s student was told he needed for an entry-level assistant job in a clothes store. Sure, he’d folded pants before, but he hadn’t honed his folding skills over five years so frankly, what good would he have been to them for £18k a year?
They say: “Young people who are out of work need need training, not benefits.”
Translation: “We’ve noticed that for some reason, young people are suddenly lacking in skills. This has never been a problem with any generations that came before this massive recession…what could the connection be? Oh! We know! Since school does not magically train young people for what employers need, and employers aren’t willing to do it themselves, we’re going to make taxpayers pay for it.”
I love the idea that suddenly young people are lacking skills previous generations had. Like somehow we got a bad batch of youngster, because it was the 90s and pregnant women thought red After Shock was good for the baby. The admission that young people lack training is baked right into their policy, yet no one is asking why this has to come from government rather than schools or employers. How have businesses managed to pass on the cost of training their entry-level employees without anyone raising a fuss? Should we fund their office space as well?
They say: “The ‘youth allowance’ will be means-tested on parental income.”
Translation: “Even though we’re doing nothing to incentivise businesses to hire young people, we’re passing the cost of unemployment benefit on to young jobseekers’ parents. Because all parents are present, willing and able to financially support their adult children.”
Hey, boomers! Congrats on being the generation that votes. It’s really gone well for you hasn’t it? Now, not only have businesses blamed your “unskilled” kids for their frugal employment freeze, but after all that tax you paid, you’re still expected to support your kids financially because the government just don’t feel like doing it anymore. They’re too busy providing all the training businesses don’t want to pay for.
This myth that the parents of the downtrodden youth are necessarily rolling in it needs to die with the Loch Ness Monster. Fat chunks of the supposedly affluent middle classes are one pay cheque away from bankruptcy. Employed people are claiming housing benefit in their thousands, because now even a job can’t lift people out of poverty. It’s all hanging by a thread.
They say: “The policy is not punitive, it’s designed to get young people the skills they need to get a job.”
Translation: “I’m a disingenuous tool, please throw long-expired foodstuffs at my eyes.”
Not only is this policy a mass reshuffling of who pays for what (with businesses once again getting the break), it’s another sneaky way to hide the fact that there aren’t enough jobs.
We’ve seen this same old youth-shaming and victim-blaming since the job crisis hit. Employment Minister Esther McVey had the nerve to claim young people lacked basic skills like “turning up on time” – quite an amazing remark to make about a group of people several million strong. Born recently? Late for work. Sure, Esther. That follows.
It utilises the now-familiar argument that’s designed to toss blame back on to jobseekers, “Well, young people, maybe you’re not good enough for a job as a cleaner”– as if there are plenty of jobs going, as if the only reason they’re jobless is their own brazen incompetence and manifest shiteness, as if managers are crying out for applicants who don’t turn up to the interview with breadsticks up their nose.
They’ve taken that argument, pretended it’s true, and used it as the basis for a policy.
If you’d all like to join me in a massive slow-clap…
Author – Erica Buist
Labour Party Press Release:
The Government has admitted Universal Credit could cost taxpayers an additional £750 million after failing to decide how free school meals will work alongside the crisis-hit programme.
Under the current system, eligibility for free school meals is decided by certain benefits received by families such as income support.
However because Universal Credit is set to replace existing benefits, including in-work benefits, and will be claimed by families not currently in receipt of free school meals, the Government must decide on new eligibility criteria.
Since 2011, Labour has consistently asked questions on the issue but the Tory-led Government has still not decided what the Free School Meals criteria will be despite repeated assurances.
Until it reaches a decision it has said that all children in households receiving Universal Credit will automatically be eligible for free school meals – which could result in an extra £750 million of government spending.
Chris Bryant MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, said:
“Ministers have ignored warnings about Universal Credit and free school meals for years.
“Now they have admitted the cost of their incompetence could reach £750 million.
“David Cameron must urgently get a grip of this latest Universal Credit fiasco with threatens to cost taxpayers millions of pounds.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 25 June 2014
The number of people ‘in-work’ and claiming Housing Benefit has rocketed by 60% since the coalition government took office in 2010, latest figures show.
According to figures compiled by the House of Commons Library on behalf of the Labour Party, the number of Housing Benefit claimants who are in-work and struggling to keep up with their rent payments increased from 650,561 in May 2010 to 1.03 million by the end of 2013, and is continuing to rise.
It is believed that the shocking increase in the number of working people claiming Housing Benefit will cost taxpayers (which includes the claimants) an estimated £4.8 billion extra by May 2015, rubbishing sensationalist and derogatory articles in the likes of the Daily Mail and The Sun newspapers, who frequently refer to benefit claimants as “skivers” and “scroungers”.
In England alone the number of in-work Housing Benefit claimants has risen by 350,783 since 2010. Scotland has seen the figure rise by 21,409 and in Wales an extra 14,080 working people are now seeking help to pay their rent.
Source – Welfare News Service 08 May 2014
Regional economic policy must be revamped if the North East is to get a fair deal in the wake of the Scottish independence vote, a national research director has said.
Dr Angus Armstrong, director of macroeconomic research at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said the Treasury does not prioritise the North East and politicians must form a strong and unified voice to correct the imbalance.
At a debate on how September’s vote will impact on the region, regional leaders also heard of a “growing realisation” Scotland may not lower corporation tax, allaying fears the country would suck business from its neighbours.
It comes as all seven North East councils, from Durham to Northumberland, agree a Combined Authority which will allow it to bid for more Government funding.
Dr Armstrong said regional policy is not a priority for the Treasury when it calculates how to spend Government cash and the North should look to reconsider a regional assembly to be heard above its southern counterparts and in Europe.
He said: “I used to work for the Treasury during the crisis and regional policy does not register. I hate that that is the case, but I really don’t think it is part of Treasury policy. I think the whole concept of regional policy needs to be re-thought.”
He added: “People in the South East underestimate the extent to which power is centralised, so, although they have a feeling there is something of an imbalance, that imbalance is greater than that feeling would suggest.
“The reason I say that is because of the financial crisis. The only reason they could support the City of London is because of the taxpayers of the rest of England.
“When it goes wrong we pay, it is quite remarkable and I find it amazing that places outside of the South East don’t have more to say about that. I do think the degree of imbalance is extremely significant.”
Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, said the region’s airports and universities could lose out due to a possible relaxation in border controls which might see students flock to Scottish universities.
She added there were fears changes to the Air Passenger Duty tax could see carriers opt to begin routes from Scottish airports.
Ms Ritchie, however, said there was an opportunity for the region to export goods to the country and, with Edinburgh closer to the region than London, collaborate with Scottish national leaders.
She said: “We should and can be confident in our strengths. This is a region which exports more than any other region and it is already used to working with different markets.
“Whilst not wanting to marginalise what is an important debate, we should not get too hung up on what Scotland might or might not do.
“We need to really develop the strongest possible economic offer that we can for the North East and collaborate as local authorities and businesses and be confident.”
Professor David Bell, professor of economics at the University of Stirling, also spoke at the debate, organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), and said Scots are keenly aware of the need to collaborate with the North.
“I don’t think that the North East is particularly disadvantaged because for Scotland to get anywhere with these negotiations there would have to be a cluster of compromises, and it would make no sense to have poor relations with its near neighbours.”
He added the North East faced being drowned out by the South East but there was a “growing realisation” that Scotland could not drive down corporation tax as it risked becoming a tax haven for businesses.
He said: “I go to talk about independence on a regional basis and the elephant in the room is the lack of political impetus, particularly in the North East.
“It is just not there and it isn’t part of the issue.
“If Scotland votes yes or if it votes no and gets more powers, you will have a heavily asymmetrical system in England which cannot continue to be stable.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 28 March 2014
Conservatives have said it is time to save money by reducing the number of councillors.
Tories in Sunderland say the cuts could save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds.
> Don’t they always say that ? What really happens is resources are reduced (library closures in Sunderland, for example) but taxpayers still pay the same. Pay the same but get less. How is this a saving ?
They say that while the council itself has become smaller over the last few years, the number of councillors has remained at 75.
> Yeah, but surely councillors aren’t the same as people working for the council. If you reduce the number of councillors, constituents representation will be worse.
The workforce at the council has been reduced from about 8,000 to just over 4,000 since budget reductions started.
> Which = more people on the dole. It’s the Tory way, folks…
Councillor Robert Oliver and Doxford Candidate Dominic McDonough believe that it is time to trim the number of councillors.
Throughout the country many councils have already cut the number of councillors, diverting funds to frontline services.
Conservative candidate for Doxford Ward, McDonough, said: “As we see the council getting smaller and efficiency savings being made, it is common sense to assume that the number of councillors should also be reduced.
> But he still wants to be one, you’ll notice…
“Several councils in England have already cut the number of councillors they elect in line with cuts to staff levels. The money saved by cutting the number of councillors should be diverted to frontline services.”
> Eh ? Surely the number of councillors is determined by the population they serve – not staff levels at the council ! Hope this guy doesn’t get elected !
Councillor Robert Oliver said: “It is right that the budget for councillors is reduced in the same way as other council budgets are reduced.
“Other services at the council have faced budget cuts, but have improved in quality, and the same should happen with the councillors.”
> Tory policy in a nutshell – less is more.
Well, less for you anyway. Not less for them.
Source – Sunderland Echo 12 March 2014
On the face of it, the headline in yesterday’s Sunderland Echo –
Sunderland benefit cheat claimed £5,000
– looks pretty much like a cut-and-dried case. As the Echo put it – ” A man working on a zero-hour contract fell foul of the law when he continued to claim unemployment benefits – conning taxpayers out of more than £5,000.”
Steven Wardell claimed £5,266 in job seekers’ allowance, housing and council tax benefits he was not entitled to and was caught after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) received a tip-off that he had been working for Velocity Driver Hire since October 2010.
Wardell pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances to the authorities spanning a period of almost two years.
However, the defence put by his soliciter stands as a pretty good warning to anyone contemplating taking a zero-hour contract job…
“The original claim made by Mr Wardell was a legitimate claim for job seekers’ allowance,” defence solicitor Gavin Sword said.
“The problem here is that thereafter he works intermittently. It’s one of those zero-hour contracts. He only works when work is available.
“In 2008 he had been on benefits. He worked for 18 hours. He notified the DWP of that and was signed off benefits. It then took just over 11 weeks before benefits were reinstated.
During that period of time he finds himself in the county court for non-payment of debt. He finds himself in quite a bad situation.
“He cannot face another 11 weeks without benefits. He is thinking ‘how am I going to pay my rent and keep the wolf from the door?’ as it were.
“He now accepts the over-payment. However, there were during that period of time some weeks when he didn’t work at all and he was fully entitled to benefits.
“During that period of time he says he on average worked 14.5 hours per week. The maximum he received when working a full week was £240. He was certainly not living beyond his means. He was struggling to get by.”
Wardell was handed a 12-month community order with 100 hours of unpaid work. He was told to pay £85 costs and a £60 victim surcharge. The DWP will seek to recover the full amount of the overpayment from him.
Victim surcharge ? Who to, the DWP ? There’s ironic…
It’s exactly because of the potential for this kind of situation developing that I wouldn’t touch a zero-hour contract job with a bargepole. Forget the dignity of labour and all that crap – for most people jobs like these are far worse than no job at all.
If people refused point-blank to do them, perhaps the employers involved would start offering more realistic terms.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 22 Jan 2014