Witney News - Council uncovers nearly £400,000 in benefit fraud

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Council uncovers nearly £400,000 in benefit fraud

Almost £400,000 of cheated benefits has been uncovered and more than 50 offenders punished in the last 12 months by West Oxfordshire District Council.

The Council's Benefit Fraud Investigation Team trebled the number of prosecutions against benefit fraudsters in West Oxfordshire and exposed over £100,000 more in fraudulently claimed benefits last year compared to the previous year.

Following its successful clampdown, the Team is now warning anyone tempted to commit benefit fraud to think again - or face the possibility of being fined and ordered to repay the money, or even sent to prison.

A total of £387,452.13 in falsely claimed Housing and Council Tax benefits was uncovered by the Council between April 2006 and March 2007, and 55 offenders were sanctioned.

Fifteen offenders appeared before the courts in prosecutions brought by the Council and received sentences varying from fines to conditional discharges. In each case, the Council sought to recoup the fraudulently obtained money from offenders. A further 18 people were given administration penalties and 22 received formal cautions.

This compares to the same period in 2005/6, when £285,156.63 of fraudulently claimed benefits was uncovered by the Team, leading to 4 prosecutions, 17 administration penalties and 21 formal cautions.

While pleased with last year's results, Jon Dearing, the Council's Head of Revenues, said the Benefit Fraud Investigation Team and Council still faces a challenge and are continually striving to make improvements.

He said: "It is not only about reducing further losses to the public purse and residents of West Oxfordshire, but also changing the assumptions some people have that it is acceptable to fiddle the system and draw benefits, knowing that their actions are fraudulent.

"Benefit fraud is a crime. It is theft from the taxpayer and the most disadvantaged, who could benefit more substantially from the total resources allocated if others did not choose to exploit the benefit system for their own gain."

Mr Dearing said he wanted to reassure West Oxfordshire residents that the Council welcomes contact and claims from those entitled to benefits, but warned that fraud would not be tolerated.

Anyone suspicious that a person is committing benefit fraud can call the Council's dedicated hotline on 01993 861234 or visit the council's website, www.westoxon.gov.uk. All information is treated in confidence.

Posted : 04/04/2007 17:27:40

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