Series looking at benefit fraud. A man claims he's reached rock bottom, but he's systematically cheated the taxpayer out of more than 118,000 pounds.
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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 front-line in the battle against benefit fraud.
Saints and Scroungers exposes the benefit thieves
who ruthlessly steal millions of pounds every year
from the British taxpayer,
and the crack teams of fraud investigators determined to put an end to their devious scams.
We also turn the spotlight on the people who are too proud
or simply don't know how to claim and those who help others get what they're due. These people,
we call the Saints.
And coming up on today's programme...
Living off the State and lauding it up in luxury,
a scrounger of the highest order comes under scrutiny.
Here we had what was clearly a greed, motivated application for benefit.
And the scheme designed to help the young and unemployed reach their full potential.
It's crazy to see where I've come from, to actually be here.
But first, the scrounger who has been living like a king, courtesy of Government handouts.
The jet-set lifestyle, eh.
Sailing off on a whim to one of your fancy holiday apartments abroad.
But let me tell you something.
These little beauties don't come cheap,
they're the ultimate in luxury living with a price tag to match.
So the chances are, if you can afford one of these little beauties,
you probably wouldn't need to be filling in one of these.
69-year-old John Watkinson would have us believe
he's reached rock bottom.
He used to run his own business
before it went under in the late '90s.
But thanks to the benefit system,
John managed to keep his AND his wife's head above water.
Unfortunately for John, things are about to get a whole lot worse,
because a crack team of Wirral fraud investigators suspected he'd been up to no good.
They believed he'd systematically
cheated the taxpayer out of over £118,000
and was living a secret millionaire lifestyle.
I've travelled to the north-west of England to find out more about this dodgy sounding claimant.
I'm on the Wirral, a peninsula just across the Mersey from Liverpool.
It's home to some of the country's richest and poorest households.
I'm here to meet the man in charge of fraud for Wirral Council,
When I drove through the Wirral today,
what really struck me is how there was some very deprived areas,
right, slap-bang next door to some very affluent ones.
-Is that a fair reflection of the Wirral?
We've got many areas that are old, terraced houses, old council estates,
very close to some of the nicest areas in the north-west of England.
Presumably you've got a lot of new money, footballers... You smirked there,
-there's some wealthy footballers?
-One or two wealthy footballers there
-and some wealthy ex-managers as well.
Give me an idea about your department.
I'm responsible for revenues and benefits at Wirral -
collecting council tax and payment of housing benefit,
and that includes looking for people that are making basically fraudulent claims.
Tell me about any of the big cases.
Well, the one that springs to mind that's fairly recent is the case of John Watkinson.
We believe that he's made fraudulent claims over quite a number years
-and basically the fraud could be up to something like £118,000.
-A lot of money.
-You leave no stone unturned.
-We look at everything
we possibly can. First of all to make sure that we're certain it's a fraudulent claim
and then make sure we know exactly what we're dealing with.
I'm intrigued. We know John Watkinson has been
in receipt of housing and council tax benefits for over a decade. In fact,
he's been raking in a total of £944 a month.
But there's something out of the ordinary about
this claimant's circumstances, namely this.
A swanky house in one of the most desirable parts of the Wirral,
quite a disparity with the seemingly destitute man who applied for benefits.
The picture we had portrayed of John Watkinson and his wife on their claim form,
was of a couple who had no capital,
they had no property, they had no savings, so the picture we had was very much of a normal claimant.
So what exactly brought John Watkinson to the attention of the authorities?
Wirral Council regularly run checks on their claimants, looking for discrepancies,
and on a routine investigation into council tax arrears, John Watkinson's name flashed up.
An undercover fraud investigator tells us more.
We were looking at people who owed
more than a certain amount of council tax.
We cross-referenced those records against ownerships of the properties
and John Leslie Watkinson showed as the owner of the address.
So, a routine check revealed John Watkinson owns the house he's living in,
but on his original benefit application form, he said he was
paying the rent to a private landlord.
At this point, it's by no means a definite fraud,
but it deserved more review, more investigation to find out
whether there was a real explanation to the information we had or whether or not it looked like a fraud.
With serious question marks hanging over Watkinson's claim and the mysterious ex-landlord,
the decision was made to launch a full-scale investigation.
The next step was to understand who and what they were dealing with.
So another undercover investigator was dispatched to check out Watkinson's property.
Today, he's taking us back there to show us what he discovered.
You're certainly sort of in the nicer suburbs now where it gets a bit more...
a bit more affluent.
It's very private. You can't really see it from the road at all with the wall and the gates.
It's not the sort of area you'd expect to find someone living in a rented house on Income Support
with no money to actually pay the rent themselves.
Having seen the house, and realising it wasn't typical
of the type of property lived in by someone claiming benefits,
suspicions were running high.
If Watkinson did indeed own it, investigators had to establish when he actually acquired it.
What we then did was do a more detailed search with the Land Registry.
What we discovered from those details was in 2000, the property
had actually been bought by Brooklyn Holdings
which was all fine. Housing benefit was being paid
in relation to a tenant for Brooklyn Holdings.
The second Land Registry check that we did, showed us that in May 2006,
the property had been transferred from Brooklyn Holdings to John Watkinson for free.
It seems that John Watkinson was simply given a house worth,
at transfer, an estimated £370,000 by this mysterious landlord.
It has been known that landlords have sold properties
and have sold them to their tenants, but it's normally for a monetary value.
There's normally some gain - this appeared to be a gift
and Mr Watkinson was continuing to receive housing benefit as if he was a tenant.
Fraud investigators were baffled. They had no idea why a landlord
would simply hand over a property for free,
but what they did know was there was something fishy going on.
Knowing they could be looking at a complex fraud on a massive scale,
Wirral Council teamed up with
the Department for Work and Pensions who have also been paying benefits to John Watkinson.
It's very likely that if somebody is making a fraudulent claim to us,
they may well be making a fraudulent claim to the DWP.
Unbeknown to John Watkinson, the investigators were closing in.
They knew the key to cracking this case was to uncover
the truth about the landlord who had so generously gifted the house for free.
We had to find out exactly who was behind Brooklyn Holdings.
Investigators got straight on to Companies House, but there was a shock in store.
They had no record of Brooklyn Holdings in the UK, so the team started looking abroad.
'We went to Companies House in Gibraltar'
to get the information on the limited company
and that showed us that the company had a managing agent who was also based in Gibraltar.
But unfortunately, they weren't prepared to help us at that time,
so we hit a brick wall really, so it was, where do we go next?
Faced with a management company shielding their elusive client,
the team were stuck, but it didn't take long for these savvy sleuths to sniff out a new lead.
Checks turned up two more equally posh pads previously tenanted by John Watkinson,
where he'd been in receipt of benefits including this little stunner.
The house with the terrace up this drive
is the first house that Mr Watkinson claimed benefits from.
It's a big house. I think the estate agent details it was more than four bedrooms.
And on the benefit application forms for his previous two houses,
one guess who was quoted as the landlord.
On the claim forms we've received for housing and council tax benefit,
in relation to John Watkinson, all appeared to have a landlord as Brooklyn Holdings.
It was a coincidence that he'd lived in three properties in three very nice areas
all through the same landlord, and the same organisation owned all three properties.
So there was obviously a link between Brooklyn Holdings and John Watkinson,
it's just at this stage we couldn't prove it.
Coming up, a dawn raid.
Mr and Mrs Watkinson did seem shocked
as I think you would be having several police turn up at your door.
And investigators turn up a few surprises.
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 simply don't know how to claim what's due to them
and their saintly helpers who point them in the right direction.
In the face of massive unemployment, it's hard enough getting work with skills and experience,
but imagine trying to find employment if you're a young person and all you want to do
is get your foot on the first rung of the job ladder.
There's even a name for it.
It's called NEET, Not In Employment, Education or Training.
What a horrible label to have hanging around your neck.
Getting off benefits is tough.
With one in six young people now unemployed,
and with no previous experience to offer potential employers,
their chances of finding work is slim to say the least.
But a new scheme may offer some hope.
In 2010, the Department for Work and Pensions funded a scheme called TAG,
which stands for Transforming A Generation.
This looks like we're about to take mug shots of you! Just have a seat around here.
You're not being interrogated. This ain't Prison Break!
The idea is to take a bunch of young people with limited prospects of getting work,
put them on an intensive six-month programme and get them paid work in the health and fitness industry.
'We're not just here to say work.'
We're here to motivate them, to inspire them.
I'm quite young myself and I've gone from jobs that I didn't particularly like
to a job that I absolutely love in a good role.
It's just to show them, look, it can be done.
Don't let age determine, sex determine, background, what you have or haven't done in the past.
Only you determine where you go.
It's week three of the programme. If the trainees pass the course, they'll receive a qualification
recognised by the industry and a work placement at a gym. So the pressure is on.
This is our gym.
'The trainees are busy learning the practical skills needed to become
'qualified gym instructors and they're under the firm guidance of tutor, John.'
You can see John, he's always interacting with the guys.
John is fantastic with them because he's been in the Army for 23 years,
he's a mixture of both discipline, boot camp, but he's fun.
-This is John, this is our man.
-John, how are you?
-These guys, do they get paid for this?
-Yes, they do.
They get paid the minimum wage. They work 25 hours a week.
That's just over part time, isn't it?
If they were on Jobseeker's Allowance, which is £100 every two weeks,
they're now getting double that.
Surely if someone is on a wage, they have to play by certain rules.
Yes, they do. The rules are any criminal activity, they're off the course.
They make sure they have to notify housing benefit that they're now in employment.
So it has to be recalculated.
-This is classed as employment? Full time?
-It's a job.
Some of these guys, it's the first time they've not been on the dole.
They'll stick this on their CV, this will go down as a job for six months.
At the end of this, do they walk away and say,
"I've done six months with TAGs," or is there a certificate?
-A certificate. It's internationally recognised.
-It's same as any level two.
The first qualification some of these guys have had?
Nathan is a 22-year-old who has had a tough start in life.
After years on and off the dole, he discovered TAG
and now he's coming to the end of his work placement
as a gym instructor. But he's impressed his employers enough
to bag himself an interview for a full-time job.
If I could get that opportunity to work with them permanently, that would be amazing.
Seriously, they're a different group of people.
They bring out a different side to me, a side that I like.
Nathan's now had his interview
and I've heard on the grapevine the news is good.
-Hey, Dom! How are you?
-Congratulations are in order.
-Thank you very much.
-I tell you what, I haven't seen a smile that big
-since Christmas Day!
-Ah, mate, I've over the moon.
So it's good news - I got the job. Interview went well.
I was nervous at first, I was a bit nervous.
-Just chuffed to bits, really.
-Tell me about the interview itself.
Did the trainer that TAG gave you help with the whole process?
Yeah, definitely. They gave me some pinpoints.
They told me a few body language tips.
Definitely, what TAG did there, they helped me out a lot.
Nathan's boss Joe has asked the newest member of the team
to come to the office for a chinwag.
you joined us on the TAG scheme.
Really impressed me all the way through.
And now it's your first day as a member of the team.
-How are you feeling?
-I'm feeling very excited!
-Let's get you on the register of exercise professionals cos you are now employed.
-Let's focus...on your training and your development.
'Francois, the course mentor, knows this kind of success story will give the new recruits a boost.'
just so you know, it can be done.
We've got a guy, his name is Nathan Mooney.
He's been given a full-time job at City Point, a top-end gym that wouldn't have looked at him before.
He's gone there with the right attitude and this is what I'm aiming for with all of you guys.
Back now to the sinister world of the scrounger.
Wirral's fraud investigation team are hoping to land a very big catch.
A man they suspect of stealing £118,000 worth of benefits
whilst living the lifestyle of a millionaire.
On paper, 69-year-old, John Watkinson, looked like a man
deserving of the tens of thousands of pounds he'd claimed in benefits over the last decade.
But despite telling Wirral Council he was renting his house from a private landlord, Brooklyn Holdings,
it turned out John owned his current house outright.
What we can see here is that there's an element of greed if this fraud is proved.
Here we have somebody that owns a property and is claiming rent and claiming council tax benefit.
The fraud team suspected that John Watkinson created the fake landlord, Brooklyn Holdings,
to hide the fact he owned all the properties where he'd been claiming
tens of thousands of pounds in benefits.
But so far, they just hadn't been able to prove it.
Their only hope was to get more evidence and they believed the way to do that, was to search his house.
So investigators put together a plan to carry out a raid.
In August 2007, it was agreed that a raid would go ahead
involving ourselves, Merseyside Police, and the Department for Work and Pensions.
John Watkinson still had no idea he was under investigation, but he was about to get a very rude awakening.
16 officers arrived at John Watkinson's house at 7am and buzzed the intercom to be let in.
Mr Watkinson did seem quite shocked as I think you would be,
having several police and other officers turn up at your door.
And it didn't take long for investigators to strike gold.
The documentation that we found led us to believe that
John Leslie Watkinson was the owner of Brooklyn Holdings.
If that was the case, then the properties that were owned
by Brooklyn Holdings were owned by John Watkinson.
We'd been paying housing benefit and council tax benefit on those properties since 1995.
So it seems the search was more than justified.
If we just looked on face value
at the information we'd got on the application forms and the initial Land Registry,
and we'd asked Mr Watkinson to come in for an interview,
it could have led him to destroy the evidence.
So unless we searched, we wouldn't have found that house.
But proof that John Watkinson was Brooklyn Holdings wasn't the only discovery.
When we raided John Watkinson's house, we turned up some absolutely astounding information.
Far from being a housing benefit claimant with no income and no capital,
what we found was somebody who had an extravagant lifestyle.
There were properties abroad which were being rented out.
There were details about weekly rentals and occupancy rates during the summer periods.
There was bank accounts that were held outside the UK that we weren't aware of.
And even added to that, which was absolutely astounding
was that there were boats involved, yachts that were moored in Turkey that were clearly his.
One of them was actually worth in the region of £39,000 to £40,000.
This was way beyond anything that people on housing benefit
should ever really have to be able to claim benefit.
So here we had what was clearly a greed-motivated application for benefit.
So let's just get this straight.
This devious scrounger has been lording it up,
sailing round the Mediterranean on his yacht, while we, the taxpayers, have been paying for it.
It was a very complex investigation and even though our officers
had the documentation, it still wasn't a clincher.
We still had to have Mr Watkinson about why he would be doing business on behalf of Brooklyn Holdings.
So John and his wife are brought in for questioning under caution.
But did John own up, or was he telling the truth all along?
John Watkinson was quite difficult to interview.
He simply kept reiterating the fact that we were confused.
We didn't understand the documentation.
He didn't have anything to do with Brooklyn Holdings.
He never dealt with any form of business on their behalf.
Originally he said that Brooklyn Holdings had been good to him.
He'd been a caretaker to their property and they'd chosen to give him the property.
John did admit to owning the property from May 2006
and that he was wrong not to tell us and continue to receive payments of rent to his bank account.
He did offer to pay that back in full and that was the only thing that he admitted to on that day.
But this part-confession didn't take the wind out of the fraud investigators' sails.
Determined to prove this scam went a lot further back than 2006,
they released John and his wife on bail for six months
and continued to dig deeper into the ownership of Brooklyn Holdings Limited.
There were so many things pointing to the fact that John Watkinson really was Brooklyn Holdings.
We just had to go back further.
Finally the team got the breakthrough they desperately needed.
Investigators obtain a declaration of trust, a piece of legal paperwork from John's solicitor
proving that John Watkinson and Brooklyn Holdings are one and the same.
And it proved that this ruthless scrounger
had been stealing benefits as far back as 1995.
I finally realised that we'd turned the corner and that a lot
of the hard work that had gone on in previous months was all worthwhile.
Fraud investigators now had all the evidence they needed
to take scrounger John Watkinson to court.
He's accused of cheating the local council out of over £55,000 in housing benefits and council tax.
And accused of stealing nearly £63,000 from the Department for Work and Pensions
for income support and pension credits.
In total, John Watkinson pilfered over £118,000
from the pockets of the British taxpayer.
Faced with overwhelming evidence,
John Watkinson pleads guilty to all 18 charges.
As for Watkinson's wife, although she was arrested and charged,
the court ordered that the two charges against her be left on file.
I'm pleased to see that we've managed to take this action and bring it to
a conclusion to see that fraud is stopped, especially fraud on this massive scale.
It's July 2010 and it's judgement day for scrounger, Watkinson.
As he enters court for sentencing, our cameras were ready and waiting.
Investigators from Wirral Council and the DWP have every faith that justice will be done.
I've investigated this case now for nearly three years and sometimes I found it quite frustrating.
I've done the best I can and I've got the case here to court today
and now it's down to the judge to issue the correct sentence that he feels is fitting.
After a few hours, it's all over.
And the punishment, two years behind bars, to begin with immediate effect.
The prosecution are also seeking to seize his luxury assets
to compensate for the £118,000 he's stolen in benefits.
And he'll be forced to live with a criminal record.
We're very pleased with the outcome.
Any custodial sentence for a fraud of this nature is a welcome one.
This says that Wirral doesn't tolerate fraud.
What we say to everyone is, "We want you to claim your right amount of housing benefit.
"We'll work to get that to you correctly and on time,
"but we will not tolerate fraud and fraud of this scale is just wholly abhorrent."
Two years, eh? What a result.
It appears John Watkinson's seafaring days have finally come to an end.
It's probably about now that cabin fever is setting in.
You see, the thing is, he's no stranger to compact living,
but there's a big difference between doing it on a yacht and doing it in a prison cell.
Go on captain, open it up!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Email [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.
Living off the state and lording it up in luxury - a scrounger of the highest order comes under scrutiny. He claims he's reached rock bottom but he's systematically cheated the taxpayer out of more than 118,000 pounds.
Plus a scheme designed to help the young and unemployed reach their full potential.