PEOPLE in Argyll and Bute who try to claim benefits to which they are not entitled could find themselves with a criminal record, a hefty fine or worse, as agencies work together to fight against benefit fraud in the area.
In the past year, three people have found themselves in court after making false claims for benefits. Ten more have been formally cautioned and 21 people have accepted administrative penalties – where they must repay a penalty charge of up to 50 per cent of the money they received under false pretences.
This action is part of Argyll and Bute Council’s battle against benefit fraud – a battle which identified £92,718 worth of fraudulent housing and council tax benefit overpayments between April 2013 and January 2014 alone.
By making false statements, not declaring paid work and other means, benefit fraudsters prosecuted in the past year have obtained thousands of pounds – money which the local authority needs to keep providing crucial support to people in genuine financial hardship.
However, to combat this, Argyll and Bute Council’s dedicated fraud investigation team works closely with colleagues across the council as well as liaising with other agencies such as the Department of Work and Pensions.
Argyll and Bute Council Leader, Councillor Dick Walsh, highlighted the need for the local authority to continue to be proactive about stopping benefit fraud.
He said: “Every penny counts when it comes to helping people in need. As a council we do our best to support those who are genuinely struggling financially. We will do everything we can to try to stop people claiming benefits they know they are not entitled so that we can continue to help those people who really need it.”
Councillor Walsh pointed out that while agencies work closely together to tackle this problem, the people of Argyll and Bute have a key part to play, too.
“We recognise that we would not be able to achieve these results without the backing of local people who provide crucial information to our counter fraud officers. We would encourage anyone who has information about possible benefit cheats to come forward.
“There are a number of ways that you can do this and you don’t need to give your name. All information is kept confidential and is taken seriously.
“If you suspect that someone is getting money they’re not entitled to, please tell us about it – ultimately you are helping us to make sure that people who really need support will be able to get it.”
If you suspect a benefit fraud, you can call our confidential hotline on 0800 854 440, Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 6.30pm. You can also speak to us in complete confidence at any council office. Our website has a benefit fraud section and report-it form to download at https://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/reporting-fraud
When a fraud is confirmed, we can formally caution the individual or impose an administrative penalty as an alternative to prosecution – meaning that they will have to repay a penalty charge of up to 50 per cent of the money they received fraudulently. Depending on how serious the case is, it may be passed to the Procurator Fiscal to consider criminal proceedings in court.
In all cases, we will take every possible step to recover the full amount of money.