Luckhee/Reach Out Saints and Scroungers


Luckhee/Reach Out

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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Transcript


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Welcome to Saints and Scroungers, the show that exposes benefit thieves, cheats and liars.

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But it does also unearth the people that genuinely need help.

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This is the frontline in the battle against benefit fraud.

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'Saints and Scroungers puts the spotlight on benefit thieves

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'who ruthlessly steal millions of pounds every year from the British taxpayer.

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'And it highlights the plight of men and women who are too proud

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'or simply don't know how to claim the benefits they deserve.

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'The saints get help. And the scroungers, well, they get tracked down by fraud investigators

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'who put an end to their devious scams.'

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And coming up on today's programme,

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smudges spotted on a benefit form unravel years of fraud and deceit.

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There was just something that made me want to go further with this, look into it further.

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'And a saintly project in the Wirral brings salvation to the local community.'

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If they hadn't knocked at my door,

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I really don't know where I would be now.

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'But first today, the case of an extremely deceitful mother of three.'

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Chasing fraudsters is a 24-hour job at the best of times,

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but catching a benefit cheat who doesn't even live in the UK is a completely different challenge.

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Luckily, Havering Council's fraud investigation unit

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wouldn't let a thing like international borders and distance put them off the scent.

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'Meet Devi Luckhee, a single mum in her early 30s.

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'She's unemployed, has three children

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'and claims housing benefit from the London borough of Havering.

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'She recently moved from a one-bed property in the borough to another, a flat here in The Rotunda.

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'So she wrote to the council to inform them of her change in circumstances

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'and submitted a new housing benefit claim.

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'£900 per month for a two-bedroom flat.

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'And this is where the story begins.

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'In August 2009, the housing benefit department in the London borough of Havering

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'were going out their usual business, processing housing and council tax claims

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'and assessing who was entitled to benefit.

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'Jenny Bush is one of the benefit assessors.

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'She assesses about 15 to 20 cases a day

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'and one of the documents she uses to do this

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'is the tenancy agreement, which gives the dates of the occupation and the amount of the rental.

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'It's a fairly straightforward procedure,

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'but when the eagle-eyed assessor was sent a scanned copy of Devi Luckhee's tenancy agreement,

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'she spotted something that didn't look quite right.'

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It looked slightly smudged around the figures.

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There was smudges where the amounts and also the dates

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and I've been doing the job about ten years now

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and you get to see tenancy agreements, and where things vary,

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you're inquisitive and you tend to look into them.

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'And that's exactly what Jenny did.

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'As the dates and figures looked as though they had been distorted,

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'she decided to compare the electronic documents with the original copy in the archives

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'because she wanted to make sure the smudges weren't caused by the scanning process.

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'Little did she know, she was about to kick off a major fraud investigation.'

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I compared it with the hard copy in our scanning department

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and we could see that it was the same one that had been received,

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it wasn't a smudge during the scanning process.

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She'd actually made four changes to this one page on the tenancy agreement.

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On the first part here, the date is where it should have the correct tenancy agreement of the 31st July.

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But you can see that it's been doctored there.

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There's a slight mark there and she's erased the three to make it the 1st

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in order to gain an extra month's benefit.

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Further down here, you can see it's more clear

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that she's actually tried to doctor it,

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although you can just make out the outline of the three on there.

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You've got the rent payable at £900,

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and, again, that is smudged slightly there.

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And, again, on there, where she's erased the three,

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and you can see that there's quite a fair gap on there.

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'Jenny was now convinced the tenancy agreement had been tampered with.

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'But to be absolutely sure, she called the letting agent in charge of the property.'

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I contacted the agents to verify the dates,

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because the tenancy agreement was obviously doctored,

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and they did verify that the date was 31st July, not the 1st,

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and therefore Devi was asking for an extra month's worth of benefit that she wasn't entitled to.

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'Jenny suspected the rental figure had been tampered with, as well.

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'But because of data protection rules, the only people who can access that information

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'are the fraud investigating officers.'

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The fraud officer I dealt with

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did agree, at this stage, that she did feel it was definitely a cause for investigation.

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'Now, as fraud investigations are often very sensitive,

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'many officers wish to remain anonymous,

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'as is the case in this investigation.'

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Initially, I made contact with the letting agent over the telephone.

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I then sent a data protection request requesting the information, that's the legislation we use.

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And then, subsequently, I went to visit him and I took a statement from him.

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The letting agent informed me that the amount had been inflated

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and that the property was actually a one-bedroom and not a two-bedroom,

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as the claim had been made for.

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'So Jenny's suspicions were spot on.

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'Devi Luckhee had doctored the figures.

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'Instead of claiming £650 for a one-bedroom flat,

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'she was claiming £900 for a two-bedroom one.

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'Case closed. Or was it?

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'Could Devi be more than a chancer?

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'Was she just after an extra housing benefit every month,

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'or could there be more to this scrounger than meets the eye?'

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When I met the letting agent, he informed me

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that she appeared to have airport security passes round her neck

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and she gave him references

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regarding her employment in France at an airport

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and she said that she wanted the property

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for during the week, for when she was working in this country,

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She gave him references of her employment

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and I think they said she had been employed since 2004

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and she was earning 1,800 to 2,000 Euros per month.

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'Hold onto your horses. Could Devi Luckhee be working in France

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'and claiming housing benefit in the UK, even though she didn't live here?

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'The fraud investigator thought this might be the case, but she needed to prove it.

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'And as Devi had three children, the first stop on her hunt for evidence was the local school.'

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I went centrally to the place that we use here in the London borough of Havering

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and there was no trace of the children currently.

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There was a trace of them previously having attended a school for a couple of months.

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I went to the schools and they gave me information

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that Miss Luckhee attended the school one day and said they were all emigrating to France.

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'The school confirmed the investigator's suspicions,

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'but she needed more proof. So the next stop on her hunt for evidence

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'was Devi's flat.'

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We went early in the morning,

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accessed the block of flats

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and went to the door, knocked and there was no reply.

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I was adamant that she wouldn't be there, in any case,

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because, from the enquiries that I'd made,

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I just didn't believe that she was living in this country.

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So I made enquiries with the neighbours, who confirmed this,

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and it was an elderly lady, and she said that she hadn't seen any female

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living there with three children.

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'The evidence was stacking up, so the fraud investigator decided to give Devi Luckhee a call,

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'and the final proof was in the ringing tone.'

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We had a mobile telephone number on her claim form,

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so I rang that and immediately it was a ringtone from abroad that I was receiving.

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'The fraud investigator was now convinced that Devi Luckhee was claiming housing benefit in the UK

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'whilst living abroad. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

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'Further enquiries showed that Devi was fleecing the UK benefits system

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'for as much money as she could get her hands on.

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'In fact, over £80,000.'

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During that time, she had been claiming, at the London borough of Havering,

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housing benefit and council tax benefit,

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and in addition, she was claiming benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions

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and also from Customs and Excise, the working tax credits.

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And she was receiving child benefit and she was getting child tax credits,

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that's for people on low income, and either income support or job seeker's at various times.

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'And Devi wasn't only claiming from the government

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'and the London borough of Havering,

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'she was also claiming from the London boroughs of

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'Barking and Dagenham, and Redbridge.'

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There is no way that we could've thought that it would open such a huge case of worms, so to speak.

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'It's unbelievable, isn't it? What started as a suspicious claim for an extra month of housing benefit

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'escalated into claims worth a total of £80,750 over six years.

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'That's money you and I have earned and paid in tax

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'lining the pockets of Devi Luckhee.

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'This woman had to be stopped, and that's what the investigator was going to do,

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'using Devi's fraudulent claim for housing benefit at The Rotunda as her starting point.'

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From my enquiries that I'd made, there was no doubt that she wasn't living there.

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It was a false claim. Her children weren't living there,

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I'd made enquiries, the children didn't go to school in this country.

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So, therefore, all the indications were that it was false

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and so she was arrestable for benefit fraud.

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'Later in the programme, an unexpected turn of events

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'put the entire investigation at risk.'

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She could've got wind of it, thought, "They're closing in."

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'From the scroungers ripping off the system to the people we call our saints.

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'Those individuals who help put money into the pockets of people in genuine need,

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'and the people who are too proud or simply don't know how to claim what's due to them.'

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I'm in the Northwest of England, and here is one of the most deprived areas in the UK.

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It's got high unemployment and lots of people claiming benefits.

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To some, this might seem like a lost cause, but thankfully, not everybody sees it that way.

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And I'll soon be meeting a group of people who literally go out there knocking on people's doors

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trying to make sure they're claiming the right benefit and trying to help them get back into work.

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'They're based here in the Wirral and the project's called Reach Out.

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'It's funded with government money and has a rather unique approach.'

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'A lot of clients we're trying to reach'

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are the hardest to reach groups -

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people who've been let down by mainstream services

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and don't trust systems and services.

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So we don't sit behind a desk and let people come to us, we go and find these people.

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We go and find local residents who need help, who need a bit of direction,

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and we hold out our hand and say, "Let us guide you on your journey. Let's take you forward.

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"There is a different way of life out there if you want it, we'll show you the way."

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'Well, you know what they say, the proof is in the pudding.

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'So I'm going to meet two people who needed the help that Reach Out was offering.

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'First up is dressmaker Jackie Griffin.'

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-Hiya, Jackie!

-Yes, hello.

-I'm going to step in.

-OK.

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Tell me about your background.

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Right, well, I found myself a single mum,

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no qualifications, really, to speak of,

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so I went back to college and did four and a half years

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City and Guilds embroidery and textile design.

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-OK.

-And from there, went into the bridal industry.

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And, unfortunately, found myself, two years ago, out of work.

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'Not one to sit around twiddling her thumbs,

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'Jackie started looking for work straight away.'

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-How many jobs were you applying for?

-On average, about 250 a week.

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-You're joking me?

-Mm.

-I didn't even know there was that many jobs in the country!

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-Mm.

-Why were you not getting them?

-Erm, possibly because I was over-qualified.

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I was applying for quite low-paid jobs, just basically to pay the bills,

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and I was competing against school-leavers, college-leavers, university-leavers, as well.

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So it was just very difficult.

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So all your working life, you've been working, had a great job, very skilled, very good at what you do,

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-then you find yourself on the scrap heap.

-Mm.

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'Jackie's not the only person in the Wirral who felt as though she was on the scrap heap.

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'My next stop is the library, where I'm going to meet truck driver Steve Turner.'

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-Tell me what happened to you.

-I'd been working since I left school, all my life,

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and then, bang, lost my job.

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So you'd gone from being a working man to being unemployed.

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How much were you getting in allowances to survive on?

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Erm, £64.30 per week.

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-Right. So not even £10 a day.

-No.

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-And you had to pay everything out of that?

-Yeah.

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-You're a family man, aren't you?

-Yes, I am. I have a daughter who lives in Manchester.

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I've got a daughter who lives in Blackpool,

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a son in Wales, from a previous relationship, two of them.

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-Do you still manage to see them?

-Not really, no.

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-Is that because of losing your job?

-It is, yes.

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I used to see my youngest daughter as much as I possibly could,

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but with being out of work, I've not had the funds,

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because of paying your bills, things like that, to go and see her.

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-That must have felt pretty bad.

-It's been horrible.

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'Sadly, Jackie and Steve's stories aren't unique.

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'There are thousands of men and women all over the country who have lost their jobs,

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'their homes and their trust in the system.

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'But local initiatives like Reach Out can help, if you allow them.'

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I thought, "I've got nothing to lose.

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"And I go to the library anyway,

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"and those guys are there, so just go for it."

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From the moment you had your first meeting with them, and you explained your circumstances and situation,

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how long was it before you managed to get a full-time job?

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I started seeing them around about February of this year,

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and they funded my licence for the forklift in April...

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-Right.

-..and a week after I took the test, I found a job.

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-Temporary.

-So, literally, within two months, you got your qualifications

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-and you were in work.

-I was, yeah.

-What do you think about that as a system?

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I've never had that kind of help before, off anybody.

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-If it wasn't for them, where do you think you'd be now?

-Still unemployed.

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'So it worked for Steve. But would it work for dressmaker Jackie?

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When we knocked on Jackie's door, she turned us away.

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Jackie didn't want help initially.

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It was only when we got to the bottom of the garden path

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that Jackie then decided that, "Maybe these people can help me, maybe these people are all right,"

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and Jackie then asked us to turn round and come back in.

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'And that was one of the best decisions Jackie's ever made,

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'because deep down, she wanted more than a job.

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'Her dream was to run her own company. And she'd even written a business plan.'

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They came in and saw one of my prom dresses

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and said, "You've got to come and see us."

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And I went that afternoon with my business plan and some samples and photographs

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and had a meeting with the business advisor and he said, "Have you got anywhere to work from?"

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-and I said, "I've got an empty building at the moment at the bottom of the garden."

-This garage?

-Yeah.

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"We'll give you a grant. We'll help you."

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And within three and a half weeks, I was up and running.

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What happened? Did they come in and get it all like this?

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They helped me organise a builder, what I needed out here,

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lighting, heating, the sewing machines out here and everything

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and in three and a half weeks, I had a useable, workable studio to work from, rather than a spare bedroom.

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-How long ago was that, that turning point?

-That was two and a half years ago.

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I said, "It's too late for my dream" when they knocked at my door.

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And it's not now. It's not now.

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-Long may it continue, going forward with that sort of strength.

-Yes.

-Well done.

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-'And Steve's a happy chappy, too.'

-I'm going to be able to see my daughter again.

-When?

-Tomorrow.

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-Are you excited?

-Yes. I can't wait.

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-Oh, I missed you, baby!

-I missed you, too!

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'The saints have got the help they need. Time now to track down the scroungers.

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'Havering Borough Council has established that Miss Devi Luckhee was living in France

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'and claiming over £80,000 worth of benefits in the UK.

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'So the fraud investigating officer set up a plan to get her back into the country.

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'And she was counting on the fact that Devi would be keen to get her housing benefit claim processed

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'as quickly as possible.'

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I asked Errol Smith, another benefit assessor,

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to send a letter to her at that claim address

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and ask her to attend an interview

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with all the documentation that we wanted to see

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and that she would need some of it for her claim,

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because her claim could not be processed without it.

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I would then have the information should we be fortunate enough to arrest her.

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'Miss Luckhee didn't question the letter because she had no idea she was being investigated.

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'She just assumed she was coming in for a routine interview

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'and the documentation would enable her claim to be processed as quickly as possible,

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'which is what she wanted, £900 of free money every month, thank you very much.

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'So the date for the interview was set.

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'29th September 2009 at 10am.

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'But something completely unexpected happened which had the potential

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'to blow the entire investigation out of the water.'

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She turned up a week early

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because she was really chasing her claim. She hadn't been paid, she wanted the money.

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'And that was a disaster, because the fraud investigator was away

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'and the police weren't on standby to arrest Devi Luckhee.

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'The team had to get her back on the agreed date

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'and Errol managed to do just that.'

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Luckily for me, I was able to contact her again

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and prompted her that I did need to see her with some other additional information

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and more or less informed her that if she brought that in on the day,

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her claim would be assessed on that very same day

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and she agreed to come in at the time that was originally set.

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So the ball was back in motion.

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It could've gone wrong at that stage. She could've got wind of it,

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thought, "I'm not coming back, this is closing in on me,"

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but she didn't. She wanted her money. She'd had it for so many years,

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no-one had found her out then

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and she was calculated and she came in.

0:20:390:20:42

'So the net had been cast.

0:20:420:20:45

'All the investigating team had to do now was reel in Devi Luckhee.

0:20:450:20:49

'And this is how they did it.'

0:20:490:20:51

On the day, I got a call from one of the officers at the public advice centre

0:20:530:20:57

to say that Miss Luckhee was in the office.

0:20:570:21:00

I went over to her, shook her hand, said good morning.

0:21:000:21:05

She had a bag with her in which I assume she had all the information that was requested.

0:21:050:21:11

We went into the room.

0:21:110:21:14

I then began to talk to her in regards to her claim

0:21:140:21:18

and the information I had received and what I still needed.

0:21:180:21:23

And during that conversation, the police walked in.

0:21:230:21:27

She was taken to Romford Police Station

0:21:270:21:31

and then she went through the booking-in procedure.

0:21:310:21:34

On her person, she had passports for the children, herself,

0:21:340:21:39

her identity card, and then she had all sorts of documentation

0:21:390:21:44

from all the various agencies that she was obtaining money from.

0:21:440:21:48

'This was the evidence needed to prove Devi was claiming benefits

0:21:480:21:52

'she wasn't entitled to. But there was much more.'

0:21:520:21:55

She had a diary with her.

0:21:570:21:59

You can see from the entries

0:21:590:22:03

where she's coming into the country on the Eurostar

0:22:030:22:07

at 0600 hours.

0:22:070:22:09

She has an appointment with the job centre

0:22:090:22:12

at 10:50 in the morning.

0:22:120:22:17

And she also has her return time

0:22:170:22:21

back to Paris on that very same day.

0:22:210:22:24

'The diary entries and the train ticket prove Devi Luckhee didn't live in the UK.

0:22:250:22:31

'The evidence was mounting up and the final nail in the coffin

0:22:310:22:34

'was something that can only be described as a forgery kit.'

0:22:340:22:37

Basically, it was lots and lots of photocopies of the tenancy for the current claim

0:22:380:22:45

where she'd gone over, practising typing the new amount for the tenancy agreement

0:22:450:22:52

and there was one that was Tipp-Exed and she was typing over the top of it and photocopying it

0:22:520:22:57

and getting it down until you couldn't see the little Tipp-Ex blob.

0:22:570:23:01

She also had... her original tenancy agreement...

0:23:030:23:09

..which she was now doctoring.

0:23:100:23:13

'For someone as cool and calculating as Devi Luckhee,

0:23:150:23:18

'bringing in all this evidence with her an was unbelievably stupid thing to do.

0:23:180:23:22

'But thank goodness she did.'

0:23:220:23:24

If there wasn't enough evidence in her possession at that time,

0:23:240:23:29

there was no doubt that she would've gone back to Paris

0:23:290:23:32

and we don't think we would've ever seen her again.

0:23:320:23:35

'The evidence in her bag was overwhelming,

0:23:350:23:38

'but investigators need to prove Devi was claiming housing benefit for a flat she didn't live in.'

0:23:380:23:44

I went with the police, after her arrest, to the property.

0:23:450:23:51

to conduct a search

0:23:510:23:53

and we entered the property via the use of her keys that she had on her.

0:23:530:23:58

We filmed... Well, I filmed the flat as it was.

0:23:580:24:03

'There was no food in the fridge.

0:24:030:24:06

'The cupboards were bare.

0:24:060:24:08

'No toys, no clothes

0:24:080:24:11

'and there was very little in the bathroom.

0:24:110:24:14

'This was one of those searches where the lack of evidence

0:24:140:24:18

'was, in fact, all the evidence they needed to prove that Devi Luckhee

0:24:180:24:22

'was trying to claim £900 worth of housing benefit a month

0:24:220:24:26

'for a flat she didn't live in, because, let's face it,

0:24:260:24:29

'if you lived in a flat with three children, would it be this empty?

0:24:290:24:33

'Devi had no choice but to come clean.'

0:24:330:24:35

So I went into the interview

0:24:390:24:41

and asked her if she understood why she was arrested

0:24:410:24:47

and she sort of immediately

0:24:470:24:51

admitted having made the false tenancy

0:24:510:24:55

and I was thinking to myself, "This is too easy.

0:24:550:24:58

"She's just confessing to everything. There must be more."

0:24:580:25:02

'Now, every good detective story has a twist in the tale,

0:25:030:25:06

'and this one is no different.'

0:25:060:25:09

She was asked where she lived and she said that she lived in France

0:25:090:25:12

and she lived with a male and she gave the name.

0:25:120:25:17

And it was just a fluke, really. I said, "Is that your husband, then?"

0:25:170:25:21

And, yes, it was, she said.

0:25:210:25:24

So she hadn't even told us about the husband, and he worked,

0:25:240:25:28

and as it turns out, she was living in France

0:25:280:25:30

with the husband that worked, with the children

0:25:300:25:33

and claiming benefits there, as well.

0:25:330:25:35

And not only was she claiming benefits here in Havering,

0:25:350:25:41

the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge,

0:25:410:25:45

she'd even put in an application for a council house here

0:25:450:25:48

when she had a council house in Paris.

0:25:480:25:51

'So there you have it. Miss Devi Luckhee was an international benefit scrounger.

0:25:510:25:56

'But she'd been caught.'

0:25:560:25:58

From the date of her arrest on 29th September,

0:25:590:26:03

she was remanded in custody up until her trial,

0:26:030:26:07

whereupon she pleaded guilty to having received benefits

0:26:070:26:13

of £80,750.

0:26:130:26:18

'And now for the good news.'

0:26:180:26:20

She was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment

0:26:200:26:23

and when she had served her sentence, she was deported from the country.

0:26:230:26:28

'Miss Luckhee's luck had finally run out

0:26:280:26:31

'and not a moment too soon.'

0:26:310:26:34

She was obviously claiming benefits

0:26:340:26:38

that she was not legally entitled to,

0:26:380:26:41

which could go to genuine people within the borough.

0:26:410:26:44

I'm pleased that we've stopped an international fraudster.

0:26:440:26:47

She was calm, cool and calculated.

0:26:470:26:50

She could manipulate any system.

0:26:500:26:53

She's been deported now, so she's gone.

0:26:530:26:57

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:27:000:27:04

E-mail [email protected]

0:27:040:27:08

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.


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