Series looking at benefit fraud and genuine claimants. Investigators spot smudges on a benefit form and unravel years of lies. Plus a project in the Wirral turning lives around.
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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 it highlights the plight of men and women who are too proud
'or simply don't know how to claim the benefits they deserve.
'The saints get help. And the scroungers, well, they get tracked down by fraud investigators
'who put an end to their devious scams.'
And coming up on today's programme,
smudges spotted on a benefit form unravel years of fraud and deceit.
There was just something that made me want to go further with this, look into it further.
'And a saintly project in the Wirral brings salvation to the local community.'
If they hadn't knocked at my door,
I really don't know where I would be now.
'But first today, the case of an extremely deceitful mother of three.'
Chasing fraudsters is a 24-hour job at the best of times,
but catching a benefit cheat who doesn't even live in the UK is a completely different challenge.
Luckily, Havering Council's fraud investigation unit
wouldn't let a thing like international borders and distance put them off the scent.
'Meet Devi Luckhee, a single mum in her early 30s.
'She's unemployed, has three children
'and claims housing benefit from the London borough of Havering.
'She recently moved from a one-bed property in the borough to another, a flat here in The Rotunda.
'So she wrote to the council to inform them of her change in circumstances
'and submitted a new housing benefit claim.
'£900 per month for a two-bedroom flat.
'And this is where the story begins.
'In August 2009, the housing benefit department in the London borough of Havering
'were going out their usual business, processing housing and council tax claims
'and assessing who was entitled to benefit.
'Jenny Bush is one of the benefit assessors.
'She assesses about 15 to 20 cases a day
'and one of the documents she uses to do this
'is the tenancy agreement, which gives the dates of the occupation and the amount of the rental.
'It's a fairly straightforward procedure,
'but when the eagle-eyed assessor was sent a scanned copy of Devi Luckhee's tenancy agreement,
'she spotted something that didn't look quite right.'
It looked slightly smudged around the figures.
There was smudges where the amounts and also the dates
and I've been doing the job about ten years now
and you get to see tenancy agreements, and where things vary,
you're inquisitive and you tend to look into them.
'And that's exactly what Jenny did.
'As the dates and figures looked as though they had been distorted,
'she decided to compare the electronic documents with the original copy in the archives
'because she wanted to make sure the smudges weren't caused by the scanning process.
'Little did she know, she was about to kick off a major fraud investigation.'
I compared it with the hard copy in our scanning department
and we could see that it was the same one that had been received,
it wasn't a smudge during the scanning process.
She'd actually made four changes to this one page on the tenancy agreement.
On the first part here, the date is where it should have the correct tenancy agreement of the 31st July.
But you can see that it's been doctored there.
There's a slight mark there and she's erased the three to make it the 1st
in order to gain an extra month's benefit.
Further down here, you can see it's more clear
that she's actually tried to doctor it,
although you can just make out the outline of the three on there.
You've got the rent payable at £900,
and, again, that is smudged slightly there.
And, again, on there, where she's erased the three,
and you can see that there's quite a fair gap on there.
'Jenny was now convinced the tenancy agreement had been tampered with.
'But to be absolutely sure, she called the letting agent in charge of the property.'
I contacted the agents to verify the dates,
because the tenancy agreement was obviously doctored,
and they did verify that the date was 31st July, not the 1st,
and therefore Devi was asking for an extra month's worth of benefit that she wasn't entitled to.
'Jenny suspected the rental figure had been tampered with, as well.
'But because of data protection rules, the only people who can access that information
'are the fraud investigating officers.'
The fraud officer I dealt with
did agree, at this stage, that she did feel it was definitely a cause for investigation.
'Now, as fraud investigations are often very sensitive,
'many officers wish to remain anonymous,
'as is the case in this investigation.'
Initially, I made contact with the letting agent over the telephone.
I then sent a data protection request requesting the information, that's the legislation we use.
And then, subsequently, I went to visit him and I took a statement from him.
The letting agent informed me that the amount had been inflated
and that the property was actually a one-bedroom and not a two-bedroom,
as the claim had been made for.
'So Jenny's suspicions were spot on.
'Devi Luckhee had doctored the figures.
'Instead of claiming £650 for a one-bedroom flat,
'she was claiming £900 for a two-bedroom one.
'Case closed. Or was it?
'Could Devi be more than a chancer?
'Was she just after an extra housing benefit every month,
'or could there be more to this scrounger than meets the eye?'
When I met the letting agent, he informed me
that she appeared to have airport security passes round her neck
and she gave him references
regarding her employment in France at an airport
and she said that she wanted the property
for during the week, for when she was working in this country,
She gave him references of her employment
and I think they said she had been employed since 2004
and she was earning 1,800 to 2,000 Euros per month.
'Hold onto your horses. Could Devi Luckhee be working in France
'and claiming housing benefit in the UK, even though she didn't live here?
'The fraud investigator thought this might be the case, but she needed to prove it.
'And as Devi had three children, the first stop on her hunt for evidence was the local school.'
I went centrally to the place that we use here in the London borough of Havering
and there was no trace of the children currently.
There was a trace of them previously having attended a school for a couple of months.
I went to the schools and they gave me information
that Miss Luckhee attended the school one day and said they were all emigrating to France.
'The school confirmed the investigator's suspicions,
'but she needed more proof. So the next stop on her hunt for evidence
'was Devi's flat.'
We went early in the morning,
accessed the block of flats
and went to the door, knocked and there was no reply.
I was adamant that she wouldn't be there, in any case,
because, from the enquiries that I'd made,
I just didn't believe that she was living in this country.
So I made enquiries with the neighbours, who confirmed this,
and it was an elderly lady, and she said that she hadn't seen any female
living there with three children.
'The evidence was stacking up, so the fraud investigator decided to give Devi Luckhee a call,
'and the final proof was in the ringing tone.'
We had a mobile telephone number on her claim form,
so I rang that and immediately it was a ringtone from abroad that I was receiving.
'The fraud investigator was now convinced that Devi Luckhee was claiming housing benefit in the UK
'whilst living abroad. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
'Further enquiries showed that Devi was fleecing the UK benefits system
'for as much money as she could get her hands on.
'In fact, over £80,000.'
During that time, she had been claiming, at the London borough of Havering,
housing benefit and council tax benefit,
and in addition, she was claiming benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions
and also from Customs and Excise, the working tax credits.
And she was receiving child benefit and she was getting child tax credits,
that's for people on low income, and either income support or job seeker's at various times.
'And Devi wasn't only claiming from the government
'and the London borough of Havering,
'she was also claiming from the London boroughs of
'Barking and Dagenham, and Redbridge.'
There is no way that we could've thought that it would open such a huge case of worms, so to speak.
'It's unbelievable, isn't it? What started as a suspicious claim for an extra month of housing benefit
'escalated into claims worth a total of £80,750 over six years.
'That's money you and I have earned and paid in tax
'lining the pockets of Devi Luckhee.
'This woman had to be stopped, and that's what the investigator was going to do,
'using Devi's fraudulent claim for housing benefit at The Rotunda as her starting point.'
From my enquiries that I'd made, there was no doubt that she wasn't living there.
It was a false claim. Her children weren't living there,
I'd made enquiries, the children didn't go to school in this country.
So, therefore, all the indications were that it was false
and so she was arrestable for benefit fraud.
'Later in the programme, an unexpected turn of events
'put the entire investigation at risk.'
She could've got wind of it, thought, "They're closing in."
'From the scroungers ripping off the system to the people we call our saints.
'Those individuals who help put money into the pockets of people in genuine need,
'and the people who are too proud or simply don't know how to claim what's due to them.'
I'm in the Northwest of England, and here is one of the most deprived areas in the UK.
It's got high unemployment and lots of people claiming benefits.
To some, this might seem like a lost cause, but thankfully, not everybody sees it that way.
And I'll soon be meeting a group of people who literally go out there knocking on people's doors
trying to make sure they're claiming the right benefit and trying to help them get back into work.
'They're based here in the Wirral and the project's called Reach Out.
'It's funded with government money and has a rather unique approach.'
'A lot of clients we're trying to reach'
are the hardest to reach groups -
people who've been let down by mainstream services
and don't trust systems and services.
So we don't sit behind a desk and let people come to us, we go and find these people.
We go and find local residents who need help, who need a bit of direction,
and we hold out our hand and say, "Let us guide you on your journey. Let's take you forward.
"There is a different way of life out there if you want it, we'll show you the way."
'Well, you know what they say, the proof is in the pudding.
'So I'm going to meet two people who needed the help that Reach Out was offering.
'First up is dressmaker Jackie Griffin.'
-I'm going to step in.
Tell me about your background.
Right, well, I found myself a single mum,
no qualifications, really, to speak of,
so I went back to college and did four and a half years
City and Guilds embroidery and textile design.
-And from there, went into the bridal industry.
And, unfortunately, found myself, two years ago, out of work.
'Not one to sit around twiddling her thumbs,
'Jackie started looking for work straight away.'
-How many jobs were you applying for?
-On average, about 250 a week.
-You're joking me?
-I didn't even know there was that many jobs in the country!
-Why were you not getting them?
-Erm, possibly because I was over-qualified.
I was applying for quite low-paid jobs, just basically to pay the bills,
and I was competing against school-leavers, college-leavers, university-leavers, as well.
So it was just very difficult.
So all your working life, you've been working, had a great job, very skilled, very good at what you do,
-then you find yourself on the scrap heap.
'Jackie's not the only person in the Wirral who felt as though she was on the scrap heap.
'My next stop is the library, where I'm going to meet truck driver Steve Turner.'
-Tell me what happened to you.
-I'd been working since I left school, all my life,
and then, bang, lost my job.
So you'd gone from being a working man to being unemployed.
How much were you getting in allowances to survive on?
Erm, £64.30 per week.
-Right. So not even £10 a day.
-And you had to pay everything out of that?
-You're a family man, aren't you?
-Yes, I am. I have a daughter who lives in Manchester.
I've got a daughter who lives in Blackpool,
a son in Wales, from a previous relationship, two of them.
-Do you still manage to see them?
-Not really, no.
-Is that because of losing your job?
-It is, yes.
I used to see my youngest daughter as much as I possibly could,
but with being out of work, I've not had the funds,
because of paying your bills, things like that, to go and see her.
-That must have felt pretty bad.
-It's been horrible.
'Sadly, Jackie and Steve's stories aren't unique.
'There are thousands of men and women all over the country who have lost their jobs,
'their homes and their trust in the system.
'But local initiatives like Reach Out can help, if you allow them.'
I thought, "I've got nothing to lose.
"And I go to the library anyway,
"and those guys are there, so just go for it."
From the moment you had your first meeting with them, and you explained your circumstances and situation,
how long was it before you managed to get a full-time job?
I started seeing them around about February of this year,
and they funded my licence for the forklift in April...
-..and a week after I took the test, I found a job.
-So, literally, within two months, you got your qualifications
-and you were in work.
-I was, yeah.
-What do you think about that as a system?
I've never had that kind of help before, off anybody.
-If it wasn't for them, where do you think you'd be now?
'So it worked for Steve. But would it work for dressmaker Jackie?
When we knocked on Jackie's door, she turned us away.
Jackie didn't want help initially.
It was only when we got to the bottom of the garden path
that Jackie then decided that, "Maybe these people can help me, maybe these people are all right,"
and Jackie then asked us to turn round and come back in.
'And that was one of the best decisions Jackie's ever made,
'because deep down, she wanted more than a job.
'Her dream was to run her own company. And she'd even written a business plan.'
They came in and saw one of my prom dresses
and said, "You've got to come and see us."
And I went that afternoon with my business plan and some samples and photographs
and had a meeting with the business advisor and he said, "Have you got anywhere to work from?"
-and I said, "I've got an empty building at the moment at the bottom of the garden."
"We'll give you a grant. We'll help you."
And within three and a half weeks, I was up and running.
What happened? Did they come in and get it all like this?
They helped me organise a builder, what I needed out here,
lighting, heating, the sewing machines out here and everything
and in three and a half weeks, I had a useable, workable studio to work from, rather than a spare bedroom.
-How long ago was that, that turning point?
-That was two and a half years ago.
I said, "It's too late for my dream" when they knocked at my door.
And it's not now. It's not now.
-Long may it continue, going forward with that sort of strength.
-'And Steve's a happy chappy, too.'
-I'm going to be able to see my daughter again.
-Are you excited?
-Yes. I can't wait.
-Oh, I missed you, baby!
-I missed you, too!
'The saints have got the help they need. Time now to track down the scroungers.
'Havering Borough Council has established that Miss Devi Luckhee was living in France
'and claiming over £80,000 worth of benefits in the UK.
'So the fraud investigating officer set up a plan to get her back into the country.
'And she was counting on the fact that Devi would be keen to get her housing benefit claim processed
'as quickly as possible.'
I asked Errol Smith, another benefit assessor,
to send a letter to her at that claim address
and ask her to attend an interview
with all the documentation that we wanted to see
and that she would need some of it for her claim,
because her claim could not be processed without it.
I would then have the information should we be fortunate enough to arrest her.
'Miss Luckhee didn't question the letter because she had no idea she was being investigated.
'She just assumed she was coming in for a routine interview
'and the documentation would enable her claim to be processed as quickly as possible,
'which is what she wanted, £900 of free money every month, thank you very much.
'So the date for the interview was set.
'29th September 2009 at 10am.
'But something completely unexpected happened which had the potential
'to blow the entire investigation out of the water.'
She turned up a week early
because she was really chasing her claim. She hadn't been paid, she wanted the money.
'And that was a disaster, because the fraud investigator was away
'and the police weren't on standby to arrest Devi Luckhee.
'The team had to get her back on the agreed date
'and Errol managed to do just that.'
Luckily for me, I was able to contact her again
and prompted her that I did need to see her with some other additional information
and more or less informed her that if she brought that in on the day,
her claim would be assessed on that very same day
and she agreed to come in at the time that was originally set.
So the ball was back in motion.
It could've gone wrong at that stage. She could've got wind of it,
thought, "I'm not coming back, this is closing in on me,"
but she didn't. She wanted her money. She'd had it for so many years,
no-one had found her out then
and she was calculated and she came in.
'So the net had been cast.
'All the investigating team had to do now was reel in Devi Luckhee.
'And this is how they did it.'
On the day, I got a call from one of the officers at the public advice centre
to say that Miss Luckhee was in the office.
I went over to her, shook her hand, said good morning.
She had a bag with her in which I assume she had all the information that was requested.
We went into the room.
I then began to talk to her in regards to her claim
and the information I had received and what I still needed.
And during that conversation, the police walked in.
She was taken to Romford Police Station
and then she went through the booking-in procedure.
On her person, she had passports for the children, herself,
her identity card, and then she had all sorts of documentation
from all the various agencies that she was obtaining money from.
'This was the evidence needed to prove Devi was claiming benefits
'she wasn't entitled to. But there was much more.'
She had a diary with her.
You can see from the entries
where she's coming into the country on the Eurostar
at 0600 hours.
She has an appointment with the job centre
at 10:50 in the morning.
And she also has her return time
back to Paris on that very same day.
'The diary entries and the train ticket prove Devi Luckhee didn't live in the UK.
'The evidence was mounting up and the final nail in the coffin
'was something that can only be described as a forgery kit.'
Basically, it was lots and lots of photocopies of the tenancy for the current claim
where she'd gone over, practising typing the new amount for the tenancy agreement
and there was one that was Tipp-Exed and she was typing over the top of it and photocopying it
and getting it down until you couldn't see the little Tipp-Ex blob.
She also had... her original tenancy agreement...
..which she was now doctoring.
'For someone as cool and calculating as Devi Luckhee,
'bringing in all this evidence with her an was unbelievably stupid thing to do.
'But thank goodness she did.'
If there wasn't enough evidence in her possession at that time,
there was no doubt that she would've gone back to Paris
and we don't think we would've ever seen her again.
'The evidence in her bag was overwhelming,
'but investigators need to prove Devi was claiming housing benefit for a flat she didn't live in.'
I went with the police, after her arrest, to the property.
to conduct a search
and we entered the property via the use of her keys that she had on her.
We filmed... Well, I filmed the flat as it was.
'There was no food in the fridge.
'The cupboards were bare.
'No toys, no clothes
'and there was very little in the bathroom.
'This was one of those searches where the lack of evidence
'was, in fact, all the evidence they needed to prove that Devi Luckhee
'was trying to claim £900 worth of housing benefit a month
'for a flat she didn't live in, because, let's face it,
'if you lived in a flat with three children, would it be this empty?
'Devi had no choice but to come clean.'
So I went into the interview
and asked her if she understood why she was arrested
and she sort of immediately
admitted having made the false tenancy
and I was thinking to myself, "This is too easy.
"She's just confessing to everything. There must be more."
'Now, every good detective story has a twist in the tale,
'and this one is no different.'
She was asked where she lived and she said that she lived in France
and she lived with a male and she gave the name.
And it was just a fluke, really. I said, "Is that your husband, then?"
And, yes, it was, she said.
So she hadn't even told us about the husband, and he worked,
and as it turns out, she was living in France
with the husband that worked, with the children
and claiming benefits there, as well.
And not only was she claiming benefits here in Havering,
the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge,
she'd even put in an application for a council house here
when she had a council house in Paris.
'So there you have it. Miss Devi Luckhee was an international benefit scrounger.
'But she'd been caught.'
From the date of her arrest on 29th September,
she was remanded in custody up until her trial,
whereupon she pleaded guilty to having received benefits
'And now for the good news.'
She was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment
and when she had served her sentence, she was deported from the country.
'Miss Luckhee's luck had finally run out
'and not a moment too soon.'
She was obviously claiming benefits
that she was not legally entitled to,
which could go to genuine people within the borough.
I'm pleased that we've stopped an international fraudster.
She was calm, cool and calculated.
She could manipulate any system.
She's been deported now, so she's gone.
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.
Eagle-eyed investigators spot smudges on a benefit form and unravel years of lies, fraud and deceit. Plus a project in the Wirral that goes door-to-door turning people's lives around.