The £1m swindle: Crackdown snares tax fraudsters in record numbers

Investigators have caught 2012 benefit cheats, pocketing a total of �1m
Investigators have caught 2012 benefit cheats, pocketing a total of �1m
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RECORD numbers of benefit cheats have been caught by fraud investigators after swindling around £1 million from the city purse.

The fraud squad used undercover surveillance techniques as part of its crackdown to snare 201 targets who were employed while claiming housing benefit or cheating the council tax system throughout the last year.

This figure – the highest ever recorded in the Capital – is more than double the 97 offenders caught in 2010 before the nine-strong fraud team was set up.

Of those caught in this year’s crackdown, 141 people have been cautioned while 60 were prosecuted in court. Greater collaboration with investigators from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has been credited for the success.

Five years ago, just 19 
benefit cheats were prosecuted in Edinburgh and fraud enforcement targets for next year have now been raised as a result of the success in 2011-12.

Susan Sime, 37, was one of those to face the courts this year after conning social security bosses out of £30,000.

The Royal Mail worker, from Stenhouse, narrowly avoided jail and was handed 240 hours of community service after repaying much of the cash.

Speaking about the record number of detections, city finance leader Alasdair Rankin said the spike in prosecutions should act as a warning to those who continue to claim benefits unlawfully.

He said: “We take a very tough stance on any kind of benefit fraud in the interests of the taxpayer, and the team has clearly proved its worth.

“The fact that people are being prosecuted will no doubt get around neighbourhoods and publicise the firm line we will take against those who defraud the system.”

Echoing these views, Gavin Brown, the Lothians MSP and Scottish Conservative finance spokesman, said cheats were denying support from those legitimately entitled to it.

He said: “There needs to be a crackdown on those who commit fraud in this way so that public funds can be preserved.”

“Benefit fraud is wholly unacceptable because people are taking money to which they are not entitled, inevitably denying those who need it more.”

Identification of potential fraud can be carried out by thorough cross-checking of claims, with housing and benefit staff also flagging up potential irregularities in 
applications.

It is understood one popular scam involves a tenant applying for financial 
assistance as a sole occupant of a property while living with the 
homeowner.

Alastair Maclean, director of the corporate governance department which oversees the investigations, wrote in a report: “The level of sanctions recorded was the highest ever.

“The main reason for this is the continued success of joint working with the DWP fraud investigators. Joint working allows fraud overpayment consolidation for all state-related benefit by each organisation inviting the other to take part in an investigation when a referral is received.”

rory.reynolds@edinburghnews.com