Fraudsters in Stoke-on-Trent are set to feel the heat of a year-long crackdown launched today (14 May) by the city council.
The high-profile campaign - the first of its type run by the authority - will be supported by posters, parking ticket messages, billboards and bus adverts. They will carry the distinctive image of a cheetah, and urge members of the public who know a ‘cheater’ to report them by phone or online.
It’s estimated that housing and council tax benefit, housing tenancy, council tax discount and ‘blue badge’ fraud cost UK councils nearly £3 billion every year:
- Housing tenancy fraud: the most widespread fraud committed against councils. Offenders include anyone who lives in or uses a council property illegally, sub-lets without permission, or leaves the property empty. It denies the 3,000 people on the city’s council housing waiting list a home. And it means the authority has to pay for temporary accommodation - at an average cost of £11,000 per case
- Benefit fraud: do you know someone who claims benefits they’re not entitled to? Perhaps they haven’t declared work, money or assets, or say they live alone but don’t
- Council tax: do you know someone who claims a council tax discount when they shouldn’t? Do they wrongly claim to live alone, be a student, or say the property’s empty when it’s not?
- Blue badge fraud: the clampdown will also focus on people unlawfully using blue badges
Anyone who suspects such fraud should call the city council’s fraud investigators on 01782 236800 or visit www.stoke.gov.uk/reportfraud
The year-long marketing campaign will cost £20,000. Councillor Paul Shotton, the city council’s deputy leader, said:
“Genuine and honest claimants, council tax payers and council tenants shouldn’t have to foot the bill for people who cheat the system. We will not tolerate fraud in any guise. It’s even more critical at times such as this, when we need to protect our limited funds to deliver much-needed services.
“Our campaign gives people an ideal opportunity to pass on information about suspected fraudsters, and to play a direct part in tackling an issue that costs us all millions of pounds. Cheaters need to know they can run, but can’t hide.
“People can contact us in total confidence, and their information will be investigated by our dedicated anti-fraud team. The cheats themselves can expect a thorough investigation and a possible prosecution. The campaign will also send a strong message to anyone thinking of committing this type of crime: don’t!”
The most prevalent type of benefit fraud in Stoke-on-Trent is known as ‘living together fraud’.
A person claims benefits on the basis they are single and unemployed, when they are actually living with a partner who’s working.
The average amount dishonestly claimed in such cases is around £15,000. It’s estimated that it costs the city council and Department of Work and Pensions around £500,000 a year. Since 2008, 75 people have been prosecuted for ‘living together fraud’, including 24 who were jailed.
In 2011/12, just over £850,000-worth of housing and council tax benefit fraud was identified in Stoke-on-Trent. There were 77 prosecutions and just over 100 other people were cautioned or fined.
A recent exercise identified £575,000-worth of single person council tax discount wrongly claimed in the city, which is being recouped.