Benefit crooks hit for £1m by Swindon Council
BENEFIT fraudsters have been ordered to pay back nearly £1m to the council over the last three years, according to new figures revealed this week.
A Freedom of Information request by the Adver has uncovered that between 2010/11 and this month Swindon Council has managed to recover about £995,114 by tracking down people cheating the system.
In 2010/11 the authority caught 59 people, of whom 20 were prosecuted, while the following year 36 people received sanctions, with eight people going in front of a judge.
During 2012/13, 37 residents were tracked down, leading to 17 prosecutions. So far this year there have been 14 sanctions, of which nine cases resulted in prosecutions.
Sanctions included cautions, administrative penalties and court action.
Councillor Russell Holland, cabinet member for finance, said catching frausters was a top prority for the authority.
“The council takes benefit fraud very seriously and if there is anyone who is claiming benefits when they know they should not be I would urge them to come forward rather than wait to be found out,” said Coun Holland, who represents the St Margaret and South Marston wards.
“However, I would like to be absolutely clear that the overwhelming majority of people who claim benefits are in genuine need and I am proud of the help that the council provides.”
The leader of the Labour group, Councillor Jim Grant, said it was important to crack down on fraudsters to make sure the money could be spent on those who really needed it.
“I wholeheartedly support all actions being taken by Swindon Council to prosecute people abusing the benefits system,” said Coun Grant.
“It is wholly unacceptable for others to shirk their responsibilities. I think residents will share this view.
“There is, however, still an awful lot to do to get more fraudulent benefit claimers to pay back the money they owe and I would like to thank the council’s benefits team in their continued work to claw back money owed by fraudulent benefit claimers.”
The council reviews allegations made via a fraud hotline and cases that are highlighted by data matching with records held by many different local and central government departments.
Officers interview witnesses and people suspected of committing benefit fraud.
If the matter is a first offence and a small value, and the person admits they should have advised the council of a change in their circumstances, the offender will probably be issued with a caution or an administrative penalty.
Cases put forward for prosecution are passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.
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