Havering school admissions fraud investigators trawl through families’ tax records and pay surprise home visits

Ruth Kirkby and Leigh Stevens, Havering Council fraud investigators

Ruth Kirkby and Leigh Stevens, Havering Council fraud investigators - Credit: Archant

The extent to which some parents have gone to get a place at the borough’s top schools was featured on BBC Panorama on Monday.

In the show, Havering Council fraud investigators Ruth Kirkby and Leigh Stevens were filmed visiting families to see if their applications were fraudulent.

Ruth said: “Most people have actually lived in the borough for a long time, and they want to have their local school, so they don’t really want people coming and stealing their places.”

The programme showed Coopers’ receiving an anonymous tip-off that a family with a large house in an affluent part of the borough had made an application giving another address just metres from the school.

The caller claimed the family was renting that property to increase the chance of getting a place at the school, but living at their home address.

Council admissions officer Jonathan Goodwin checked council tax records to confirm the family owned the larger house.

The family claimed they were having building work done and had to move out and live in temporary accommodation.

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Ruth and Leigh found the family at home in the larger house and concluded it was their normal place of residence and therefore the application was cancelled.

The pair also investigated a parent who applied for a place at Ardleigh Green Infant School with a Havering address, despite records showing her as living in Barking and Dagenham.

“We’re here to find fraud, so when you find something that looks like it could be false, you want to go for it,” said Leigh.

Barking and Dagenham Council revealed the woman was claiming housing benefit from that authority.

In an interview, she told investigators she applied for schools in Havering as she intended to move there, but had not yet relocated.

Her admission that the Havering flat was not her usual place of residence meant the application was rejected.

Speaking on the programme, fraud team manager Paul Winn said: “In an ideal world all schools would be great, but we all know this isn’t an ideal world.

“It’s now becoming more that there’s a kind of education tourism taking place.

“Hopefully what we do will put people off coming to Havering to apply fraudulently for their school places.”