Series looking at benefit fraud. A fraudster seeking asylum from Sierra Leone also claims to be a hard-working single mum. But she is suspected of running a sophisticated scam.
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This programme tracks down cheats, exposes fraudsters and brings help to those who really need it.
This is the front line in the battle against benefit fraud.
This is Saints And Scroungers.
Saints And Scroungers is all about busting the benefit cheats who steal millions of pounds every year,
and the crack teams of fraud investigators determined to expose their scams.
We also shine a light on those who genuinely need the money
and the people who help them get it. They are our saints.
And, coming up on today's programme...
Living like royalty and hiding her husband.
-The bogus asylum seeker who wasn't quite who she seemed.
-I was now sure
that we were dealing with one person that was using two identities.
And the DIY training scheme that turns the unemployed into handymen
for pensioners and the disabled.
It's satisfactory for them, and I go away thinking, "I've helped someone out today."
But first, the scrounger who's been living like a royal,
courtesy of the benefit system, while we've been slaving away to pay our taxes.
What makes this country great is that we give money to people who genuinely need it.
The problem is, wherever there's money, there are people who want to steal it.
This shadowy figure goes by the name of Queen Hanson,
but clearly she's not one for making public appearances.
She claims to have come to the UK seeking asylum
from war-torn Sierra Leone, in West Africa.
She also claims to be a hardworking single mum who needs help paying the rent.
Croydon Council's anti-fraud team suspect that Queen Hanson
has been living like royalty.
What's more, we've all been paying for it.
She is suspected of running a sophisticated scam,
using dual identities to flout the immigration laws
and cheat the benefit system out of over £70,000.
I've come to Croydon to find out more
about this dodgy-sounding claimant.
This is one of London's biggest and most diverse boroughs.
The government's asylum screening unit is based here.
For many migrants, it's the first place they come, and they make it their home.
David Hogan is in charge of stopping benefit fraud for the council.
-Morning, David. Nice to meet you.
-Croydon, it's a big town, isn't it?
-It's a very big town.
You're talking about roughly 350,000 households here in Croydon.
-It's a huge melting pot here.
-It's a big, diverse mix. Yes.
-How many people claiming benefits and how much money are we talking?
-Well, we've 38,000 people in Croydon
that are claiming benefit of one type or another.
Um...the spend on that is just under £100 million.
-Woah, think about it weekly - that's nearly two million quid a week.
-It is. It's a huge sum.
-How much of a drain is that on the council? That's a lot of money.
-It is a lot of money,
and the council are responsible for ensuring that all of those payments are made correctly.
But, as we know, they're not always made correctly
because there are people out there who are looking to take extra money, or money they're not entitled to.
And David and the fraud team suspect that Queen Hanson is just one of those fraudsters.
In 2003, they received what looked like
a legitimate claim for housing benefit and tax credits.
In the case of Queen Hanson, she presented herself to the council as a single mum of two children,
working in a local supermarket.
She told us that she was a UK citizen and that
she was entitled to receive housing and council tax benefit and she was paid them, on that basis.
Queen Hanson might have been able to continue claiming benefit
if the council hadn't run a search on her name with other organisations.
Using sophisticated computer systems in a process called data matching,
they discovered she had thousands of pounds of savings.
Top investigator Gail Campbell was straight on to the case.
Well, this case came to the council after a data match,
and that was from the housing benefit matching service.
It advised us there was undeclared money held in a bank account.
Even though she was working, Queen Hanson had raked in
over £45,000 in tax credits, by claiming to be a single mum.
But clearly she didn't need the money to live on, as she'd opened
a string of bank accounts to stash it away in.
If you've more than £16,000 in savings, you're not entitled to benefits,
and if you don't declare it, you're breaking the law.
If you find out a claimant has got more than £16,000, what will you do about it?
It 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.
-Interest as well?
-Interest as well, back to the taxpayer.
The discovery of the claimant's secret savings were the starting point
of Croydon Council's investigation. Though she had thousands in the bank,
she was still claiming to be penniless
so she could carry on getting housing benefit.
And the fraud team were about to discover her domestic circumstances were more complicated
than she was letting on.
We checked to see whether there was any credit history,
and that brought back information that showed there was another person
er...making credit applications from the same address, and...
his name was Ekhator Ojo-Osagie.
Hold your horses! Queen Hanson told the council she was a single mum.
So who was this man living at her address?
If they were in fact a couple, her housing benefit form
would have been fraudulent.
When we did these credit checks,
we knew that Queen Hanson had made claims for housing benefit
and she'd made claims from three separate addresses in the borough. We made further checks
on these addresses and it showed the same male appearing on all the credit checks.
So it looked as if he'd been at the same address
at the same time as Queen Hanson.
Something didn't add up.
Queen Hanson had only qualified for benefit
because she claimed to be a single mum.
If it was now looking like she might not be single after all -
the team suspected the man she lived with was more than a lodger.
Was he, in fact, the father of her children?
Queen Hanson's benefit application
listed two children, and the children had the same surname, Ojo-Osagie.
And that linked into the male that we found on the credit checks,
and that was the surname that was coming up
on the other checks that we can make.
The evidence seemed to be stacking up that this was a family.
But they needed more.
Mrs Ojo-Osagie had started to claim income support.
So the Department for Work and Pensions
were now taking an interest.
Gail asked them to check if Mr Ojo-Osagie had a paid job.
The DWP were able to tell us that Ekhator Ojo-Osagie
was employed by the Royal Mail.
Queen Hanson had failed not only to declare that she was living with a man,
but that he had a full-time job.
A trip down to the Croydon sorting office
for a little chat with Mr Ojo-Osagie's boss
proved beyond doubt that they were in fact a family.
A period of paternity leave had been approved for Mr Ojo-Osagie, and the dates
of that paternity leave coincided with the birth
of one of Queen Hanson's children.
Everybody that knew him
was aware that he did have a wife, and he had children,
and he spoke about them a lot
while he was at work.
Gail now had evidence that Mr Ojo-Osagie and Queen Hanson were living together as a family.
All the pieces of the jigsaw were falling into place.
It was time to confront the suspected fraudster.
By this stage of the investigation it was quite clear that not only had she undeclared bank accounts,
but there was a strong possibility that she'd also got an undeclared partner,
who had an income, so it was felt that it was appropriate
to bring her in for interview.
At this stage, Queen Hanson was suspected of lying
about her circumstances so she could claim benefits.
But now she had a chance to give her side of the story.
She came to the interview and she brought a solicitor with her.
She "no comment"-ed on every question, even when I asked her
to confirm the names of her children.
And Queen Hanson's suspected husband, Mr Ojo-Osagie, wasn't particularly co-operative either.
He did say to me on the telephone
that he wasn't coming to the interview cos... it wasn't anything to do with him.
With this pair refusing to co-operate, the fraud team
were going to have to start digging deep.
What they didn't yet know was that Queen Hanson was hiding her real identity,
and if they couldn't unravel this complex fraud,
she could end up getting away scot-free.
The fraud team make a potentially vital discovery.
This wedding programme
was an excellent piece of evidence as it showed
the couple due to be married.
But will they be able to uncover
Queen Hanson's real identity?
From the scroungers defrauding the benefit system
to the people we call our "saints".
Individuals and organisations up and down the country
that go out of their way to offer help to those in genuine need.
Vulnerable pensioners and unemployed youngsters, two very different groups of people
that share a common denominator.
Both could do with a helping hand.
So, wouldn't it be great if there was a way of combining their problems
and helping both groups at the same time?
And that's exactly what a charity called In Touch sets out to do.
It teaches unemployed people DIY skills
and offers a handyperson agency to vulnerable old or disabled people.
We are working with
younger people, who've had long periods of unemployment,
and we're helping them back into finding work, and hopefully,
on to a more prosperous career in the future.
24-year-old Mark Morley from Larkfield in Kent
has been out of work for the best part of a year
after losing his labouring job in London.
'The training course was my last option.
'I was beginning to think, "I'm never going to get anywhere."
'The course started to look more promising.'
It looked like my sort of...
When we're looking at the employment of younger people,
um...we have to look at it in a way
which doesn't really take too much account of the skills base. Having the right attitude
makes all the difference.
After an anxious wait, things are looking up for Mark.
He gets that sought-after place on the training scheme.
I did feel king of the world. I felt like Muhammad Ali in the champions fight, like, literally.
It brings a sense of inspiration to yourself. You're going to get work,
you'll get certificates, and stuff. It makes life so much easier.
Getting a place on the training programme means that Mark
has been able to stop signing on
and now he's guaranteed a weekly wage for the next six months.
Today, Mark's heading out on a job with mentor Danny.
But I'm keen to see how he's getting on with life as a trainee handyperson
before he hits the road.
-Glad to meet you. I'm Dominic.
-How you doing? Nice to meet you.
-You're one of the handypeople here.
-I am indeed.
-Tell me about the day
-you found out you got it.
-It was like being on heaven.
It was brilliant. I thought, That's it. I've got myself a job. Six months of work.
That means I can then look after my little girl, I can provide.
-I can be a dad, sort of thing.
-And they're going to train you up to do...
-Quite a good handyman.
-Yep. Basic DIY.
-It ain't hard stuff.
-You could be putting a shelf up, tap washers in. Little things.
-You like the work?
-I love the work. It's great. It gives me an insight
-into how to do little simple DIY for people.
-It's satisfactory for them.
Makes their life the world better. And I'll go away thinking, "Well, I've helped someone out today."
-You're a good talker. Am I holding you up?
-I have got customers to see.
-There probably is a muffin and a cup of tea waiting for me somewhere.
-Probably going cold.
-Well get on with it!
-Come on. You should come out with us.
-I'll show you how we do.
I'm heading off with Mark in his new company van.
We're going to be meeting mentor Danny at today's first job.
79-year-old Donald Lynch is a retired engineer
who suffers from muscular degeneration and has extreme difficulty getting around the house.
With DIY out of the question, Donald's reliant
on the handyperson service
for any adaptations he needs to his home.
And helping people like Donald gives Mark real job satisfaction.
I'm not just sitting at the dole office looking for jobs every day,
and seeing everybody else struggle. I'm actually out there making my life
and people around me's lives a bit easier.
Today's job is fitting a simple handrail by Donald's patio doors.
He's having trouble getting in and out of his garden.
He's got a half-step but he's struggling,
-still, so we'll pop a handrail up.
-It's the typical sort of job you do?
It's a typical sort of job there, so...Like I say, we've just done the screws and rawl plugs,
and Mark's going to fit it up for us.
While Mark and Danny crack on, I'm keen to find out just what the handyperson service means
to customers like Donald.
In Touch, as an organisation, how many times have you used them?
-OK, quite a few.
You trust them?
Yes, they're excellent.
They're effective, they're on time and they do what they say they will do.
As simple as that.
For people like Donald,
knowing they're not being ripped off by rogue traders or cowboy builders gives peace of mind.
I was looking for help with this door
because the little wheel trucks had collapsed.
I looked in the local paper and this chap turned up, made no attempt
to inspect what was wrong. He just went outside, looked at it and said,
"It's ever so old. We can't do anything with it. You need a new door.
-"We do a wooden one for £1,750."
Then it struck me that In Touch had all the knowledge where they had contractors of their own.
So I rang up, asked if they could help.
-They gave me two telephone numbers. I rang the first one.
He came up, looked at it, gave a price on the spot.
-Instead of 1,700? You've rung the bell, haven't you?
But the handyperson service isn't just about turning up and doing the job.
Danny, Mark and the rest of the team are always on the lookout for other improvements they can make.
Donald's call to In Touch to assess his loft and new insulation led to another vital job getting done.
Whilst the young lady was here,
filling in the forms for the loft insulation,
he said, "I can smell gas. I think I'd better get a surveyor down."
He looked at the boiler, "How old is it?" And we worked out 17-22 years old.
-It was cream-crackered.
"So I will submit that you need a replacement boiler."
Thanks to the scheme, Donald's boiler is safe again and his new handrail
is ready to use.
That is brilliant.
That makes it much easier.
And there's more good news - a permanent position has come up with the handyperson service.
Even though he's only been with In Touch for two months,
Mark's got the job.
-Mark, I hear things are looking up for you.
-Things are looking up.
I have got a full-time job
so I am now fully employed.
You keep clapping your hands like that, someone will chuck you a fish!
-I am excited cos now I've got a full-time job.
That means constant work, constant pay.
It makes my life all the more easy.
Just a few months ago, Mark had almost given up hope of getting a job. Now he's graduated
to being a permanent member of staff, the future is looking much brighter.
It's an absolute pleasure for me to give you this certificate of achievement
-and really wish you a very long and prosperous career.
-So congratulations, Mark.
-Thank you for giving me this opportunity.
THEY WHOOP AND APPLAUD
Mark's going to go a long way.
From when he first started training to where he is now,
I'm very proud of him. I know he's going to be a decent handyperson.
Helping the vulnerable and training up the unemployed.
Sometimes it's the simplest of ideas that are quite genius.
And it's projects like this that show exactly what can be done
when a bit of creative thought goes into tackling problems.
It's the best of both worlds.
And I for one hope it continues to flourish.
Now it's back to Croydon,
as the case against benefit cheat Queen Hanson hots up.
The council and the Department for Work and Pensions
suspect that by using a false identity,
she's been able to flout the immigration laws
and illegally claim over £70,000 of us taxpayers' money.
Posing as a single mum and using the name Queen Hanson,
this suspected fraudster was hiding the fact that she was living
with a man who had a full-time job.
But this enabled her to steal thousands of pounds of benefits
that she wasn't entitled to.
It was time to knock this fake queen off her throne.
Top investigator Gail Campbell of the Croydon fraud team
was leading the investigation.
Not only had she undeclared bank accounts,
but there was a strong possibility that she'd also got
-an undeclared partner.
-If true, this would have affected
her claim to benefits.
When Queen Hanson was brought in for questioning,
she answered "no comment" to all the allegations that were put to her.
The man Gail suspected to be Queen Hanson's partner
was also declining to be interviewed.
So, it was time to turn up the heat.
Mr Ojo-Osagie was arrested,
while the fraud team led a search of the house they shared.
By this stage, they'd suspected that Queen Hanson
wasn't who she said she was. They were hoping the proof they needed
would be in the house they both lived in.
Found in the bedroom upstairs were some certificates,
and these certificates were in the name of Adesuwa Ojo-Osagie.
Hang on a minute.
This was supposed to be Queen Hanson's house.
But investigators had just found a document in the name of a woman
who shares the same surname as Queen Hanson's partner,
Mr Ojo-Osagie was asked at the time to explain
who that person was and he said it was his sister.
Sister? A very unlikely story.
And no-one was convinced by this explanation.
Don't forget, the fraud team already know that Mr Ojo-Osagie took
paternity leave when Queen Hanson gave birth to her third child.
Gail was convinced that Queen Hanson was a false identity,
used by Adesuwa Ojo-Osagie to conceal her marriage.
I was now sure that we were dealing with one person
that was using two identities.
Now, this could start getting complicated
so let me break it down for you.
Queen Hanson comes into the UK as a single mum.
She starts working and claiming benefits.
It's discovered she has savings she hasn't declared
and there are three people registered as living in her house -
Mr and Mrs Ojo-Asagie and Queen Hanson herself.
But there was something else.
Documents with Mrs Asagie's name on
showed her to be Nigerian, whereas documents in Queen Hanson's name
from when she entered the country as an asylum seeker claim she was from war-torn Sierra Leone.
Now, as well as being
a benefit fraud investigation, this was now turning into an immigration case as well.
It was time for Gail and the Croydon fraud team to contact the UK Border Agency.
They're responsible for controlling migration into Britain and removing any migrants
who break our immigration laws.
Tina Lyonette is one of their top investigators.
To get to the bottom
of this identity puzzle, she began by checking back through the immigration records.
'So when Croydon Council came to me, they gave me three names to look at.
'We had Queen Hanson,'
Ekhator Ojo-Asagie and Adesuwa Ojo-Osagie.
Tina started with the name at the top of her list - Queen Hanson.
The records showed
that she'd first arrived in the UK almost 20 years ago on a Sierra Leone passport.
It was easy to find Queen Hanson.
There was a Home Office file on her that showed that she'd claimed asylum
back in the '90s and that had been refused initially.
Knowing she was eventually likely to be deported,
in 1997 she asked for her passport back,
explaining she wanted to get married.
For a while, Queen Hanson disappeared completely off the map.
So Tina's next step was to look into the immigration records
for Adesuwa Ojo-Asagie.
Adesuwa had applied for a visit visa in 2002,
and her husband, as well.
Her husband, of course, being named on the visa application as Ekhator Ojo-Osagie,
had a legitimate right to work in the UK.
Adesuwa was only allowed to enter as a visitor.
Soon though, she was hatching a plan to try and stay.
His wife, Mrs Ojo-Osagie, applied to become his dependant,
alongside her children. That application was refused.
So, in the name of Adesuwa Ojo-Osagie,
she had no leave to remain in the UK as a dependant.
Adesuwa's appeals for a visa failed in 2006.
But in the same year, Queen Hanson resurfaced,
pursuing her asylum claim.
She tells the Home Office that she's not received the decision
about her asylum claim.
The Home Office say to her, "You've been refused". She said, "I didn't get the letter".
So she puts in another application.
But Queen Hanson's determination to claim asylum supplied Tina with the vital piece of evidence she needed.
The photograph of Adesuwa matched the photograph that Gail had of Queen Hanson.
That shows a clear connection between the two identities.
At last, she'd cracked it.
Tina had proved that Queen Hanson and Adesuwa Ojo-Osagie
were, in fact, the same woman.
It was time for Gail and the fraud team to bring her in.
And even more evidence was about to turn up that proved Queen Hanson and Mr Ojo-Osagie were married.
We arranged for another arrest to be made of the couple
and a thorough search of the property and the most damning document that we found
when we searched the property was a wedding programme.
This wedding programme was an excellent piece of evidence
because it showed the couple that were due to be married,
it listed their named in full - the lady in the wedding programme was Adesuwa Ojo-Osagie
and we already knew this lady as Queen Hanson.
In July 2009, the council had all the proof they needed
to bring this fraud case before Croydon Crown Court.
Faced with the overwhelming evidence presented to the court,
she pleaded guilty to...
Mr Ojo-Osagie was charged with...
The charges were left on file.
She's used a false identity since 1991.
She's accessed benefit systems while she's been using that false identity.
I am quite thrilled that everything has gone our way and she's been convicted and rightly so.
Queen Hanson has been sentenced to eight months in prison, and there's more good news for Croydon Council.
Using the Proceeds of Crime Act, she's been ordered to repay the entire amount
that she's cheated out of the benefit system.
This case is a great example of the powers that local councils now have.
Not only can we get a successful conviction,
but we can confiscate assets that we say are the proceeds of crime.
Mrs Ojo-Osagie has also had her second appeal against deportation refused.
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.
A fraudster seeking asylum from war torn Sierra Leone in West Africa also claims to be a hard-working single mum who needs help paying the rent. But she is suspected of running a sophisticated scam using dual identities to flout the immigration laws, and cheat the benefit system out of over 70,000 pounds.
Plus an organisation that offers help to vulnerable, old or disabled people, and jobs for young people.