Havering Council staff caught up in fraud scandal as benefit cheats steal £1.5m

Havering Town Hall

Havering Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Benefit cheats have stolen almost £1.5million from cash-strapped Havering Council over the past year – and 34 of its own workers have also committed fraud.

A new report has revealed the huge sum made in overpayments to bogus claimants of housing benefit, council tax benefit and council tax support from April 2014 to March 2015.

The £1,479,440 total is made up of:

- £637,904 in rent allowance

- £611,772 in rent rebate

- £229,764 in council tax support.

The council is trying to find ways to save £60million and it is not known how much it will get back from the overpayments.

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Between January and April there were five prosecutions for people who lied about living together and cost the council £257,106.77.

Investigators were able to avoid the cost of a trial by forcing guilty pleas based on evidence.

The same report, which was published ahead of Wednesday’s audit committee, revealed 59 fraud investigations within the council have taken place in the same period.

While 25 of those investigated were found to be innocent, the council has taken action against the other 34 culprits.

Two people were sacked, six have resigned, nine people were disciplined and one was even prosecuted as a result of internal fraud.

The prosecution involved an unnamed member of staff who committed “contrived tenancy fraud” over five years in which she and her husband, a known and wanted criminal, lied about living together.

She claimed to be the landlord and said she did not live at the property so her husband could rent it and claim housing benefit.

After five years she said she had moved in and her husband had left and was claiming at another flat, but in reality he still lived with her and their children and sublet the other rented property.

She was arrested and sacked and both were summonsed to court, where she was ordered to do 12 months of community service including 100 hours unpaid work.

Her husband didn’t turn up to proceedings and a warrant is still out for his arrest.

Cllr Roger Ramsey, leader of Havering Council, said: “We have high expectations of individuals who work for us and will always take appropriate disciplinary action if these are not met.”