Prosecutions serve as a reminder to benefit claimants
Shropshire Council’s public protection service is reminding housing benefit and council tax support claimants of their statutory duty to promptly notify the council’s benefit service of changes in circumstances that might affect their entitlement to these benefits.
The advice follows successful prosecutions on 20 September 2013 where Shropshire Council brought cases under the Social Security Administration Act 1992 against two benefit claimants.
Barbara Trow and Julian Hollins, a couple in their late 40s/early 50s from Oswestry, claimed housing benefit and council tax benefit, but failed to disclose to Shropshire Council an increase in Mr Hollins’ working hours. The change to their household income meant that between 18 March 2012 and 15 September 2012 they benefited from around £2,300 to which they were not entitled. Both Miss Trow and Mr Hollins pleaded guilty to the offences, and were separately sentenced by the Magistrates’ Court to a £75 fine and were each ordered to contribute £100 towards the council’s costs.
In addition to their sentences, the claimants will also be liable to pay back all the benefits that have been overpaid.
Public protection investigation officers are reminding benefit claimants that they must declare the correct information at the time of their application and notify any subsequent changes in circumstances at the time they occur to avoid breaching benefit legislation.
Frances Darling, service manager for safer and stronger communities within public protection, said:
“From these cases, whilst around £2,300 related to the specific offence period between March and September, there was in fact a total of over £4,000 that had been claimed when the claimants were not entitled to this money; it is simply not acceptable for anyone to do this. It is the responsibility of those claiming housing benefit and council tax support to declare any income or capital to the council, plus any other changes to their circumstances. Where people fail to do this, the council will investigate the matter and will require the money to be repaid. In addition, we will not hesitate to prosecute where this is appropriate.”
Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member responsible for public protection, added:
“Claimants need to be aware that benefit fraud will not be tolerated in Shropshire. We have a duty to protect the public purse and to ensure that those members of our community who genuinely need financial assistance through the benefit system have the help and support they need. Claimants who obtain benefits that they are not entitled to undermine the efficiency and effectiveness of the welfare benefit system. I strongly urge all claimants to provide the benefit service with accurate claim information at all times, and to promptly provide any changes to their circumstances that may affect their entitlement to benefits.”
Shropshire Council encourages individuals and businesses to contact its public protection service on 0345 678 9000 if they have any suspicions that offences may be being committed. Information can be given anonymously, and will always be treated in line with the council’s information governance policies.
Benefits advice can be obtained from the council’s benefits options team on 01743 258922 or general advice can be found on our website here.