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 Wednesday 19 February 2014 where Shropshire Council brought cases under the Social Security Administration Act 1992 against two benefit claimants.
Paula Brockhurst, 48, from Bridgnorth, claimed housing benefit and council tax benefit but failed to give prompt notification to Shropshire Council that her partner’s wages had increased. This meant that between 25 March 2010 and 16 July 2012 she benefited from over £2,200 to which she was not entitled.
Paula Brockhurst pleaded guilty to the offence and the Magistrates Court sentenced her to a 12-month Conditional Discharge, and ordered her to pay £200 costs to Shropshire Council. Paula Brockhurst will also be liable to pay back the benefits that she was not entitled to.
Penelope Whitehouse, 44, now living in the Telford area, claimed housing benefit and council tax benefit for a property in Codsall Wood, but failed to give prompt notification to Shropshire Council that her earnings had increased. This meant that between 1 April 2011 and 15 October 2012 she benefited from around £1,550 to which she was not entitled.
Penelope Whitehouse was convicted in her absence. The Magistrates Court sentenced her to a fine of £100, awarded costs of £200 to Shropshire Council, and ordered compensation for the repayment of £1,542.47 with immediate effect.
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:
“From these cases, whilst around £3,750 related to the specific offence periods, there was in fact a total of over £4,175 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 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:
“I hope this sends a clear message to others that fraudsters will be caught and punished.
“This is not a victimless crime as fraudulently claiming benefits takes money out of the pockets of every hard working taxpayer, as well as the people who genuinely need support to make ends meet.
“I strongly urge all claimants to provide the benefits 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.