17/12/2013 - Permalink

Prosecution serves as a reminder to benefit claimants

Related topics: Community / Health

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 the arrest and subsequent successful prosecution on Friday 13 December 2013 of a 32-year-old benefit claimant, Barry Swain, from Shrewsbury.

Mr Swain claimed housing benefit and council tax benefit but failed to disclose his remunerative employment to Shropshire Council.  As a consequence, between 20 September 2010 and 21 November 2010 he benefited from £640.83 to which he was not entitled.

Mr Swain previously failed to acknowledge Shropshire Council’s offer of a Simple Caution for the Social Security Administration Act 1992 offence; however, he pleaded guilty to the offence at Telford Magistrates’ Court.

Mr Swain was ordered to pay £200, which included a fine of £105, a Victim Surcharge of £15, and an £80 contribution charge towards Shropshire Council’s costs.  Mr Swain will also be liable to pay back the benefits that he was not entitled to.

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 breaches of benefit legislation.

Frances Darling, service manager for safer and stronger communities within public protection, said:

“This case did not involve a significant amount of money or an extended period of time over which the benefit was claimed.  On this basis, and in line with our enforcement policy, we deemed it appropriate to offer Mr Swain a Simple Caution.   By failing to acknowledge this offer, Mr Swain ended up being arrested and going through a court hearing that resulted in him having to pay a total of £280, in addition to repaying the benefit to which he was not entitled, and he also now has a criminal record.”

Frances Darling reiterated:

“It is the responsibility of people 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 at http://shropshire.gov.uk/counciltax.nsf/open/861D7BA89ABF09CB8025755F004C8706.