Series looking at benefit fraud. The story of the fraudster who stole 25,000 pounds from the council, all the while owning property and running an international import company.
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Welcome to Saints And Scroungers, the show that exposes benefit thieves, cheats and liars.
But it does also unearth the people that genuinely need help.
This is the frontline in the battle against benefit fraud.
Saints And Scroungers puts the spotlight on benefit thieves who ruthlessly steal millions of pounds
every year from the British taxpayer.
And we search out the saints, who help put unclaimed cash into the hands of those that need it.
Coming up on today's programme:
The scrounger who tied herself up in knots
trying to hide her whopping savings account, four businesses and two properties.
There was about £14,000 in the bank account,
so we were looking at potentially ten years of fraud.
And we meet the parents who needed all the help they could
when they discovered their children are at constant risk of brain damage.
It was a horrible, horrible night. The worst 24 hours I think I've ever had.
If you're down on your luck and living off of Government handouts, under normal circumstances,
you should be applauded for showing some entrepreneurial spirit and starting up your own business.
Bear in mind Government money isn't there for the rich and prosperous, it's there for those who need it.
So when your company starts making money, you should stop claiming it.
Meet Deirdre Hynes. She's 51, single and living in Croydon.
Deirdre has been unemployed for several years
and claiming Housing Benefit to help with the rent.
But in 2004, she got a job working for a tie company.
She immediately did the right thing and told her council in Croydon, but as it was a very low wage,
she was still able to claim.
Everything seemed to be above board, but Deirdre is about
to find herself under suspicion of carrying out a £25,000 swindle.
Fraud investigator Gail Campbell
is on the case.
Originally Deirdre Hynes said
the only money coming into the house was income support.
She later on declared she'd changed her income.
She'd started working for a local tie supply company
and she was going to earn £51 a week.
There was no declaration of any savings at all.
If you're a low earner and you don't have other assets or savings,
you can still claim benefits to help with the bills.
Although Deirdre's claims seemed legit, a routine internal check made Gail's team take a second look.
The council received a Housing Benefit match
which showed that Deirdre Hynes had failed to declare a bank account.
The information that was reported suggested that there was about £14,000 in the bank account.
So we were looking at potentially ten years of fraud.
Deirdre had been claiming Housing Benefit since 1996,
but a sophisticated computer system the council use triggered off an investigation into her case.
The Housing Benefit Matching Service is a tool investigators use to spot scams.
The computer system looks through the names of people on benefits
and matches up addresses, National Insurance numbers, bank account numbers
and crucially, interest received on bank and savings accounts.
David Hogan is Head of Audit at Croydon Council.
Croydon pays out benefits
to over 38,000 households.
David uses the matching service to weed out the ones that shouldn't be getting handouts.
David, when you pull people in and question them over this, that must come as quite a shock.
They're surprised at how much information we can get hold of.
They're surprised at the level of the checks and how deep we can go.
I thought that was all data protected and people couldn't find that out, but not in this case, no?
Well, this has been obtained for one purpose.
That is to look at whether somebody is out there committing fraud. If they're not, it's just ignored.
We don't know what the savings are, but from the interest we can calculate roughly what they are.
From there we know whether fraud may have been committed or not.
If you have £16,000 or more in savings, you're not entitled to Housing Benefits.
If you don't declare it, you're breaking the law.
If you've got a claimant and they've got more than £16,000, what will you do about it?
That will automatically trigger a fraud investigation.
We will look at trying to recover all the money we've paid out from the savings they've got.
-Every single penny?
-Interest as well?
-Interest as well, back to the taxpayer.
Gail Campbell has got information through the Housing Benefit Matching Service
that Deirdre Hynes may have thousands of pounds of savings that she hasn't told the council about.
So Gail wants to know more.
So we decided that we would invite her to come for an interview.
During the interview when it was explained to her why we needed to interview her under caution
and the information that we received from the matching service was explained to her and shown to her,
she became a bit on the defensive,
a bit cagey, and didn't really want to volunteer any information to us.
I don't work.
She couldn't remember
how many bank accounts she had.
Couldn't remember balances.
Couldn't explain where money came from.
It appeared that she had some kind of memory problem!
At one stage she did ask me what I knew and she would tell me if it was correct.
I think she did that because she wasn't very sure of what information we had,
and I don't think she wanted to commit herself to telling us about the wrong bank accounts.
Deirdre may have turned up to the interview, but that's about all.
Her sudden memory lapses and evasive answers are making Gail very suspicious.
My thoughts were that there's some big holes in her story and we obviously need to fill the gaps.
Gail is now hot on the trail and writes to Deirdre
to get hold of bank statements as far back as possible.
When she receives some, they contain a key piece of information.
'What was really important'
to us was that a deposit was withdrawn from the account
-that was over £57,000.
The next thing we did was to ask her for the source of the deposits and where it had gone.
And that was the last communication that we had between both parties.
There was nothing else received by the council after that.
£57,000 is a lot of cash for anyone to have in a bank account
and it's well over the £16,000 threshold for Housing Benefit.
Now that the Croydon team knew about it,
they weren't going to allow Deirdre to sweep it under the carpet.
Do people think that because they don't respond to you, that's it, you'll drop the case?
I think she just buried her head in the sand a little bit
-and thought it would go away.
-What was the next step?
Well, there was obviously something seriously wrong with the information that was received by the council.
It was thought that we would enlist the help of another agency.
Council fraud investigation officers often team up with specialist police departments
who can help them fight the fraudsters.
In this case, the department Gail contacted was the Payback Unit.
They have the power to freeze bank accounts
and quickly obtain statements and financial application forms.
Within one day, they'd returned information to me
that confirmed that not only had she large amounts of money going through her bank accounts,
she had further bank accounts that she'd failed to declare and she'd purchased a property as well.
Surely that's a bit of a stretch for a woman earning £51 a week
with no savings?
Unless, of course, she was earning a bit more than she let on.
She's provided information to the mortgage lender that confirms
she has been in employment since 1997,
which is what she's put on here, and that her basic wage is £38,000.
£38,000 a year!
That is 14 times as much
as Deirdre said she was earning
on her benefit forms.
But that mortgage form had another shocking revelation.
The property price was £245,000.
-Her intention was to pay a deposit of £140,000.
And she was only requesting a mortgage of £105,000.
-This all went through?
-This mortgage was approved and the £105,000 was paid to her.
-This is not a lady who's skint by any means.
'140 grand is a huge deposit.
'It was pretty obvious that this scrounger'
was hiding massive amounts of cash to conceal her real situation.
But there's something else a bit fishy about this property purchase.
When that mortgage went through, did she then go and live in that house?
No, she's never lived at that house.
The plot thickens.
Deirdre Hynes is hiding the fact that she's got enough savings
to pay a 140 grand deposit, and yet she is still using it to buy a house she doesn't even live in.
Where on earth is all of this money coming from anyway?
Surely not from a £51 weekly wage selling ties.
Coming up, a police raid reveals that Deirdre
is taking working from home to a whole new level.
The police entered that property and they found
that it was full of novelty ties.
Next, it's farewell, fraudsters and hello to the people we call our saints.
Those who are in genuine need of help but who are too proud or don't know how to claim
what is due to them, and their saintly helpers who point them in the right direction.
Starting a new family is an exciting and nerve-racking time.
Think about it.
What does every prospective parent want for their new baby?
For it to be healthy.
So what happens after a successful birth and you get news,
news that could turn out to be your worst nightmare?
Corinna and Nick Lunn tied the knot in 2008.
After the wedding, they were keen to start a family straightaway.
Corinna fell pregnant, but there was a surprise in store.
The nurse said to Corinna, "Has anybody commented on your size?"
She said, "No, nobody has, but I feel quite large."
They said, "Oh, that's because there's two in there."
There's no twins in the family, so we weren't expecting it at all.
On 28th August 2009, Emily and Benjamin were born.
You realise that that's it.
Life as you know it is done with.
Suddenly you've just got to completely change the way you think.
At six days old, twins Emily and Benjamin had a routine blood test.
Then of course the next day, we got the phone call to say that the tests
for PKU had come back positive and we needed to go to Manchester Children's Hospital.
So what does it mean if you've got PKU?
PKU is an inherited
condition whereby people are... babies are born
lacking an enzyme which breaks down protein foods
and they're unable to convert a specific part of protein called phenylalanine.
Phenylalanine is found in all protein foods.
That includes fish, meat, cheese, eggs, milk, but also foods that people
don't often think of as containing protein, so ordinary flour, bread, biscuits, pasta, rice and so on.
The treatment for PKU is to avoid eating this protein
that causes all the damage, otherwise things can go badly wrong.
In previous years, before national screening came in,
untreated PKU patients had to be in institutions or mental hospitals,
as we had in those days, because the damage was so serious.
Children with PKU need to eat between three and seven grams of protein a day.
That means planning, measuring and watching them like a hawk.
And with twins, that's a full-time job.
At this stage, you go back to work, you're at home, a 24-hour carer.
How did that affect your finances?
It was really hard. We were paying lots of things on credit card.
-Presumably you weren't paying the credit cards off?
-The balances were going up every month.
-Up and up?
What was going out was about £700 or so more than what was coming in.
-Yeah. So you can imagine
in six months we'd run up at least £4,500 worth of debt, really.
A health visitor told them they should be eligible for Disability Living Allowance for the twins
and so they applied.
But after putting forward what they thought was a strong case, they were turned down.
I was heartbroken, wasn't I?
-I'd spent so much time filling these forms in.
I'd got letters from our dietician and our health visitor to support our application.
Then just to get this letter that said, "No, sorry, you don't meet the criteria."
You just think, "We're doing all of this extra hard work."
Obviously we do it because we want what's best for the twins,
but it felt like nobody was acknowledging that, really.
-It just felt very dismissive and, you know, it was really upsetting.
Convinced there was some mistake, they appealed, but they were turned down a second time.
Corinna and Nick were confused, frustrated and getting more and more in debt.
Corinna phoned a welfare advisor and was told to look up a charity called Disability Information And Support.
Amongst other things, they help people with long-term illnesses and disabilities
apply for the benefits they urgently need.
When Corinna first came to me,
she was quite devastated she'd been turned down for Disability Living Allowance.
She felt she had a strong case. When you get a refusal
like that, it can just sort of tip you over.
You feel as if you've been working so hard towards it and then you've been knocked back.
Jeanie was convinced Corinna had a case because if the children didn't have constant supervision,
their health was in danger.
She went through all the paperwork with me and asked me some questions about the twins' condition.
Then said, "Well, I'm absolutely certain that you meet the criteria, so we need to go for a tribunal."
On the day of the hearing, Corinna has one last chance to get the help
she and Nick need, but she's not facing the panel alone.
She's got a secret weapon - Jeanie King.
The tribunal was really scary.
Because when you go to a tribunal, there are three people there.
One is a GP, one is a lawyer, and the other is like a disability rights expert.
But with Jeanie to support her, she survived the ordeal.
'After the tribunal,'
the decision was made and both children were awarded middle-rate care.
Finally, they triumphed.
After the months of struggle, their determination to get the benefits they were entitled to was rewarded.
Getting middle-rate Disability Living Allowance meant that the panel could see
that the twins need constant supervision during the day. But as a bonus, it also meant
Nick could apply for Carer's Allowance
as he had stopped work to supervise the twins.
For the DLA, the family got nearly £50 per week per twin,
and for Carer's Allowance they got an extra £150.
This makes a grand total
of £550 per month.
Now THAT has changed their life.
that we can pay the priorities, like the mortgage,
without having to worry about it and without using credit cards and without running up debt.
It has made things better, made things more comfortable.
Now, anybody else out there with similar problems,
not identical, cos I know you have a very unique case here, what would your advice be to them?
Go and get some help. Go and speak to either Disability Information Support or a welfare adviser.
Just go and get some advice right from the moment you think you might be applying for benefits.
We'd have been a lot more successful if we'd got help earlier.
That's what I would say to people, just go and get some advice.
-OK. Things have turned now.
-Yes, we are.
-I tell you what, it's freezing here.
-It's blowing a gale. Shall we find a nice warm cafe?
-Yes, let's go.
Now it's back to Croydon and the net is closing in on our scrounger.
is suspected of cheating us, the taxpayer, out of £30,000.
She's been on Housing Benefit since 1996 and claims she earns just £51 a week selling ties.
But she's kept quiet about her savings accounts,
the property she owns and the massive deposit she put down for it.
Investigator Gail Campbell is on her case.
What I find incredible here is here's a woman claiming poverty.
She's got enough money to buy a house, she's got enough money to put down 140 grand as a deposit,
-and she's got huge amounts of money going in and out of various bank accounts.
She's a bad girl, isn't she?
We needed to find out a lot more about her circumstances.
What's more, Deirdre never even lived in the property she bought.
Here's where it gets a little bit complicated.
Gail knows of three houses associated with Deirdre Hynes.
The first one is the address where Deirdre first claimed Housing Benefit,
but she's not living there any more, because she's living
in house number two,
a different property rented from the same landlord as house number one.
The third house is the one that Deirdre's bought, but she's never lived in it.
After buying it, she got a tenant, but here's the twist.
The tenant is her landlord.
He's living in her house and she's living in his.
Let me get this right.
In the house that she was renting, claiming benefit from,
that was owned by her ex-landlord.
The house she'd purchased, she had her ex-landlord living in that one?
-It stinks a bit, doesn't it?
It definitely stinks a little bit.
And the police
at the Payback Unit thought so too.
So on 8th June 2009, the investigation was cranked up.
It was time to pay Deirdre a visit.
This is the property that she was renting from the landlord.
The police entered that property
and they found that it was full of novelty ties.
We're not just talking about a few boxes of novelty ties either.
The house was filled top to bottom with thousands of them.
There was also an office space, files and documents.
Deirdre wasn't just an employee selling ties for £51 a week,
she was heavily involved in running the company.
But what else was she hiding?
If you look further down the street...
when the police went to that address they found members of the landlord's family living there.
This is the house that Deirdre had bought but not told the council about.
There was a third property also visited by the police on the same day, not too far away from here,
that Deirdre Hynes was renting, also from the same landlord.
It was at the third property where Deirdre was living
that officers discovered photos
that made them think she'd been more to her landlord than just the tenant.
When we went into that property, we discovered that there were holiday pictures on display
of Deirdre and her landlord, very much looking like they were a couple.
The plot thickens, eh?
So that tied into the claims for benefits
when the suspicion was there all the time whether or not she had been a partner of the landlord.
So in 1996, at the time of her Housing Benefit application,
Deirdre Hynes kept quiet
about the fact that she was in a relationship with her landlord.
How significant was it finding out that she had this relationship with her supposed landlord?
It showed that the first application she made for benefit, they had to have been a couple at that time.
I would say that when she made that first application, she knew
what she was doing and she's continued to feed us false information.
So let's just get this straight.
This scrounger couldn't have been less entitled to Housing Benefit if she tried.
She was living in her lover's house to start with, had thousands in savings, bought a property.
Oh, let's not forget the tie website.
But that's not all.
How many different businesses was she involved in?
There was export business that was run solely by her from that address, where she was exporting to Japan.
She was exporting different types of teas
and the tie business. Four different businesses
that we can see from what we took away from the property.
None of this ever before she declared at all? It was all brushed under the carpet.
We didn't know about any of that information.
Four businesses. That's a far cry
from a struggling tenant who needs the taxpayer's help to pay the rent.
What makes somebody go to all that bother and put themselves on the spot like that
to try and claim Housing Benefit, various different benefits,
-when they have that much income coming in?
-I suppose it was greed.
-It is, isn't it?
-A greedy lady.
She's obviously got a fair income and she just wants more and more.
But Hynes' money-grabbing days came to an end in June 2009.
She was arrested and admitted everything the team suspected and more.
She also confirmed that she had thousands of pounds invested in stocks and shares
and there was evidence to show that she owned property in Ireland.
With all the information that we'd managed to collect,
there was more than enough evidence there to take this lady to court and put forward a very good case.
Faced with all the evidence, Deirdre had to agree.
In March 2010 at Croydon Crown Court, Deirdre pleaded guilty
to fraudulently claiming a total of over £25,000 in benefits.
She'd been cheating the system for ten years.
Does anyone ever get away with this sort of crime or will you always get them?
I would like to think we always get them eventually,
but sometimes, as you can see, it does go on for a long period of time before we catch up with them.
-It means that the penalty and the punishment is even worse, doesn't it?
-You will go after her assets now?
-That's the next stage of the investigation.
We've restrained what we know she has and we'll look to confiscate it.
-She's not having a good day, is she?
For stealing over £25,000 of taxpayers' money, Deirdre was given
a 12-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months,
and ordered to do 240 hours
of unpaid work in the community.
Now that should keep her
tied up for a while.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd.
E-mail [email protected]
Dominic Littlewood presents a series looking at the work of fraud investigators searching out benefit thieves and meets the people they are stealing from - the genuine claimants.
This episode features the story of the fraudster who stole 25,000 pounds from the council to pay her rent and council tax, all the while owning property and running an international import company selling ties!
Plus, when Corinna and Nick Lunn's twins were born with a rare illness that meant the wrong foods could cause brain damage, they were desperate for help. Thankfully, a charity took up their case.