Melia/Hunter Saints and Scroungers


Melia/Hunter

Series looking at benefit fraud. Unemployed mum Kerry receives a visit from the HMRC fraud investigators after receiving more than £30,000 a year in child tax credit.


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Transcript


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Saints And Scroungers puts the spotlight on benefit thieves

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

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We also search out the saints who help put unclaimed cash into the hands of those who deserve it.

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Saints And Scroungers is all about busting benefit thieves

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who steal millions every year

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and the crack teams of investigators determined to scupper their devious scams.

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We also shine a light on those who genuinely need the money and the people who help them get it.

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They are our saints.

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The saints get help and the fraudsters get their comeuppance.

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Coming up on today's show -

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the claimant with one of the highest child tax credit incomes in the UK.

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At this point, she was actually receiving in excess of £32,000.

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But is she really a mother of 14?

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It appeared that she had just invented these children in order to claim tax credits.

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We meet a man who fought off a major illness, but is now battling to stay in his home.

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To carry on living in my own home means everything.

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Will he get the cash lifeline he needs to help secure his future?

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We couldn't afford to get any adaptions done, so I was worried he might have to go in a care home.

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If you're down on your luck and you're forced to survive on government hand-outs,

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you've got to thank your fellow citizens for paying their taxes

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because that is exactly what benefits are - other people's taxes.

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But it's there for those people who need it, not for those people who want to milk it.

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Tipton, West Midlands,

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home to 30-year-old Kerry Melia, her husband and their family.

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With young children to look after, it's difficult for Kerry to get out to work

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and with her husband also unemployed,

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Kerry claims tax credits to supplement her family's income.

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Tax credits was introduced in April 2003

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and was designed to be a flexible credit system

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to allow people to claim Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

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Child Tax Credit is generally paid to people on low incomes who have a child resident with them.

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£27 billion is paid out every year in tax credits, mainly to families with children.

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It's money intended to benefit the most needy families in our society

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and this huge sum is fiercely guarded by officers at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs

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who have robust systems in place to try to ensure the wrong people can't get their hands on the cash.

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We regularly do a search of the top 5% of tax credit claims in payment.

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This might be the highest amount or we may use other search criteria to pick out

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which we subject to greater scrutiny

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and that top tier that we select is then subject to data cross-matching

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with information held by other government departments, like the Department for Work and Pensions.

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In the course of one of these routine checks, Kerry Melia's name has popped up.

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The file was handed to an HMRC case manager who, due to the sensitive nature of her work,

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needs to remain anonymous.

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In the Melia case, the claim was quite a high claim.

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Therefore, it immediately triggered some of the systems that we have in place.

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Kerry Melia was in receipt of more than £30,000 a year

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in Child Tax Credit. With a sum that large,

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the Revenue's crack team of undercover investigators are obliged to do a few extra checks.

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It was time for a thorough review of Kerry Melia's claims.

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The first claim that Kerry Melia submitted

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was on the 16th of August, 2005.

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On this she claimed for four children and one baby.

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The first claim, there was no questions asked.

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The correct documents were provided and the award was made to them.

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Nothing suspicious so far. Four children and one baby - that takes the total to five.

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That year, Kerry received just over £6,000 in Child Tax Credits which she was entitled to.

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But less than a year later,

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Kerry got back in touch with the Tax Credit Department.

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On the 31st of January, 2006, Kerry Melia contacted the HMRC Helpline

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to advise them that she had now taken on responsibility for her sister-in-law's three children

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and she'd be fostering them,

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so was incurring expenses and would like to claim tax credits for them.

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OK, Kerry's original five children plus three foster children makes eight. That claim was also approved.

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And by later the same year,

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Kerry had given birth to another baby of her own.

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Cue another call to the HMRC Helpline.

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On the 20th of November, 2006,

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Kerry rang up to notify that she'd had a baby boy

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and therefore wanted to add him to her claim and increase the payment.

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Are you keeping up? Now she's claiming for nine children.

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Once again, Kerry's payments increased.

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By now, she was receiving almost £15,500 a year in Child Tax Credits.

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No questions were asked,

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but it was her subsequent claims for even more children

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that started to arouse suspicion.

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By 2009, Kerry was claiming for five genuine children

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and a further nine children which she said she was fostering.

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At this point, she was actually receiving in excess of £32,000.

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14 children and £32,000-worth of tax credits in one year?

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That's one heck of a total.

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No wonder alarm bells had started to sound at HMRC.

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The sophisticated internal systems started to red-flag Kerry's case,

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getting the investigators rather hot under the collar.

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Kerry Melia's claim was subject to greater scrutiny because of the sheer number of children.

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This included her children and children which she was fostering on behalf of her sister-in-law

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and other children which had allegedly been put to her to foster from the local authority.

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The only way to move this investigation forward

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was to find out whether all these children really were living with Kerry Melia.

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She made over 300 calls to the tax credit helpline,

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so it was necessary for us to obtain the call recordings and transcribe them.

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We had to listen to them to see what declarations she had made to us.

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Initially, investigators found little evidence

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that Kerry was trying to cheat the system.

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When Kerry made the calls to the tax credit helpline, she did come across as very convincing.

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She gave the air of somebody who was wanting to do her best by these foster children.

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But the cracks soon started to show.

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As the calls progressed, she did on a number of occasions

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actually slip up with dates of births and getting names a bit confused.

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Gotcha!

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The anti-fraud team now smelled a rat,

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so they cross-checked the information from the call logs

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with information held at other government departments.

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Kerry's first claim for four children in 2005 was cross-checked

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with Child Benefit records from the Department for Work and Pensions.

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All four children were receiving Child Benefit,

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so the investigator knew those initial claims were genuine.

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But what about the claims she had made in 2006 about fostering her niece and nephews?

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We needed to verify whether the niece and two nephews had been placed with Kerry,

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therefore, we contacted social services.

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They confirmed that these three children hadn't been placed with Kerry for fostering,

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though they were aware of them.

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Kerry hadn't officially been fostering her niece and nephews,

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so had no right to claim Child Tax Credit for them.

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She had been overpaid more than £5,500 of tax credit.

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Her story was starting to seriously unravel.

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But what about the other foster children for whom she made claims?

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We contacted the General Register Office to establish

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whether the nine other children did actually exist.

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The General Register Office holds a central copy

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of all registrations for births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales.

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If they don't hold a person's birth certificate, they don't exist.

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When the investigators looked closely at the birth records,

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more of Kerry's foster children simply dropped off the list.

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For example, she claimed that Martin Crompton had been born on the 15th of May, 2004,

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and he was a child that didn't exist.

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This was the killer piece of evidence the investigators had been waiting for.

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The other eight children for whom Kerry Melia had claimed tax credits

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were subject to the same scrutiny with the General Registry Office

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and like Martin Crompton, they couldn't trace any records

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for children born on the dates claimed by Kerry Melia.

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This was the conclusive proof

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that none of Kerry Melia's supposed foster children officially existed.

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It appeared to us that she had just invented these children in order to claim tax credits.

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Claiming tax credits for 14 children when you only have five? That's brazen.

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Investigators were now convinced that Kerry Melia's Child Tax Credit claim didn't stack up.

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They suspected that she had been overpaid almost £20,000 in tax credits

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she simply wasn't entitled to.

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But they wanted further proof before they could throw the book at her.

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It was time to pay the Melia family a visit.

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Coming up later, we discover more

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about the many residents of Kerry's three-bedroom semi.

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We came across various animals and reptiles,

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a snake.

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And her tissue of lies unravels

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when she inadvertently leads investigators

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to the key evidence against her.

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She said, "Please don't look in the cupboards in the kitchen, third drawer down."

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For now, it's farewell to the fraudsters and hello to the people we call our saints,

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those who are in need of help, but are too proud or don't know how to claim what is rightfully theirs

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and the people who point them in the right direction.

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Imagine working all your life, paying all your taxes

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and really looking forward to your retirement,

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but then instead of being able to enjoy that well-earned freedom,

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you become a prisoner in your own home.

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71-year-old Ken Hunter from Walton-on-Thames can't get out and about much any more.

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He needs help just to get out of bed and is unable to cope

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with even the most simple of household tasks.

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But it wasn't always like that.

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He enjoyed a happy marriage with his wife Joyce and worked for 25 years as a bookbinder

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before starting a window-cleaning business with his brother-in-law.

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Ken worked another ten years until poor health forced him to stop.

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I had internal abscesses and part of my bowel had turned gangrenous.

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And when I left hospital, I realised I would never be fit again to do window cleaning,

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so it effectively... That's when my work life ended.

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Ken was signed off as unfit to work.

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He was entitled to Disability Living Allowance and later, a state pension.

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To help support her husband and two adopted children, Danielle and Mark,

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Ken's wife Joyce took work at a local factory.

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But then Ken came up with an idea that he hoped would make their lives a bit easier.

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When you're there in bed and you see your wife leaving the house at 6.30 in the morning,

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and she's got rheumatoid arthritis, you think, "This can't be right."

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So that's when I came up with the idea of applying for equity release, which we got.

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Equity release is a method of obtaining some of the capital value of your property as cash.

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You get a lump sum to live off which is usually repaid by the sale of your property when you die.

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Having an extra small income meant that Joyce could retire,

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but it wasn't long after Joyce's retirement that things took a dramatic turn for the Hunter family

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when she became seriously ill.

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She was found to have ovarian cancer.

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And also she had a weakened heart.

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Anyway, they was going to do her hysterectomy,

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but when they got her on the table, her heart was fluttering and they said, "We can't do it."

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So she was just basically sent home.

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She did have chemo and they gave her a blood transfusion every now and again which perked her up no end.

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We'd come back from one of those and she got some fish and chips on the way home.

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She said, "I fancy some fish and chips." Anyway, we went upstairs

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and all of a sudden, Danielle, my daughter, was going nuts. I thought, "What's going on here?"

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She'd died, but because she had her face away from me, I didn't realise.

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One minute she's chatting away with an appetite, the next, she's dead.

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She's there with her fish and chips, then she's gone.

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Ken had always been close to his daughter Danielle,

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but now she had to try and fill the gap left by her mother.

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Dad took it really, really hard when Mum passed because he was heavily reliant upon her.

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She did pretty much everything.

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He helped out here and there, but she did most things.

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Just a short time after the death of his wife,

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Ken Hunter had to suddenly have his leg amputated at the hip as a result of vascular disease.

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Now he's confined to a bed or a wheelchair and unable to access the first floor of his house

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where his bedroom and bathroom are located.

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I quickly came to realise that I was, in essence, a prisoner in my own home.

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All I could do was get the wheelchair and go from the bed to the kitchen. That was it.

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Ken's daughter Danielle has pulled out all the stops to get her father all the extra benefits she can.

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I needed help and Danielle was there.

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You know, she was on the phone to people, she knew what organisations to contact.

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And, you know, all the rest of it.

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Although Ken is currently being cared for day to day in his home, he needs to look to the future.

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His house needs major adaptations if he is to be able to stay there - work that won't come cheap.

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We couldn't afford to get any adaptions done, so I was worried he might have to go in a care home.

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Ken has really started to worry about what the future holds for him.

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In my head, I thought I'm going to end up in a care home, which was the last thing I wanted.

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To carry on living in my own home means everything

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because it's not a house, it's a home.

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All my memories are here, which are with me all the time, you know.

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Fortunately, a saint has come to Ken's rescue in the nick of time

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in the form of occupational therapist, Shelly.

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She has drawn up a list of work to be carried out in Ken's home to make it possible for him to stay there.

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We looked at door widenings for the wheelchair.

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We put a through-floor lift in

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from the living room up into one of the bedrooms

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and for Ken's bed to be moved up into the bedroom,

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door widenings upstairs and a wet-floor shower area

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and rails around the toilet to make transfers easier.

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There's just one possible drawback to Shelly's plan for Ken's house.

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All the work will cost a massive £26,000 -

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money Ken doesn't have.

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But Shelly has referred Ken's case to Helen Emin at Elmbridge Council Home Improvement Department

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in the hope that they might be able to throw him a lifeline.

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I've come to meet her and to find out more about what she can do for Ken.

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We are a home improvement agency.

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We're there to assist vulnerable people

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-to continue to live independently.

-What do you class as "vulnerable"?

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-You're not just saying "disabled", are you?

-No.

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Disabled, elderly, people on a low income.

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'The council's Home Improvement Department is there to help people in situations like Ken's.

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'It's not just a great service for vulnerable people,

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'but it helps to save taxpayers' money in the long run.'

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For a severely disabled wheelchair user,

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if they couldn't remain in their own home and have to go into residential care,

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you'd be looking at a cost of about £700, £800 a week for residential care.

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By assisting them and putting in, for example, a stairlift to enable them to stay in the property

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or ramp access, that's avoiding that cost.

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Helen also really wants Ken to be able to stay in his home

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and she's going to try and help him get some funding to cover the cost of the work that's needed.

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It's called a Disabled Facilities Grant and it's paid out by local councils

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to help make changes to a disabled person's home, but the conditions for approval are quite stringent.

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-Was Ken entitled?

-As Ken was in receipt of a means-tested benefit,

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that meant he was eligible for a grant, but also as he is registered disabled,

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it automatically meant that he would be available to have adaptations carried out.

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-He's double-qualified, isn't he?

-He is, yes.

-Both boxes ticked.

-Absolutely.

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When I heard that Dad was entitled to the full grant, I couldn't believe it.

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You're never really sure until you get the OK and I was so excited. I was really pleased for him.

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So with the grant and works approved by the council, the builders could get started at Ken's house.

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They're constructing a wheelchair-accessible ramp

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to Ken's front door, so he'll finally be able to get outside on his own

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and they'll also give him access to the upstairs of his house by installing a through-floor lift

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to take him to his bedroom. They've already finished Ken's wheelchair-accessible wetroom.

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Now that everything is coming together, he's getting excited

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about soon being able to make use of all the fantastic adaptations.

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I'm feeling very pleased that I'll be able to get out on the ramp

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because for a year, I haven't been able to get out. I'm really looking forward to that.

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I'm looking forward to going on the lift and going up for a shower.

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I haven't seen my upstairs for a year.

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I can't remember what it looks like!

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The total cost of the work at Ken's house came to £26,000.

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Although it didn't cost him a penny, if Ken decided to sell his house,

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he would be liable to repay a portion of the cost,

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up to a maximum of £10,000 over ten years.

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But it's safe to say that the first place Ken plans to go is definitely upstairs.

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I think the lift that they've put in for me is an absolute boon.

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It makes it easier to go up and down, take a shower when I want to. Absolutely wonderful.

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Ken's also loving being able to get out and about once again

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and no longer feeling like a prisoner in his own home.

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The last time you brought me down here wasn't that long after Mum died.

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-I haven't been down here for about 18 months.

-It's nice to be out.

-Yeah, and to get a bit of fresh air.

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-So is this going to be the start of things to come, then?

-Yeah.

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All the things they've done for me has totally given me my independence back, you know?

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I've gone from being able to do virtually nothing to practically anything I want.

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You know... I can go out in a car if I want to.

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Whereas I couldn't before because I'm terrified of going out the door.

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You know, it's just transformed my life.

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It might have cost over £25,000 of taxpayers' money to adapt Ken's house,

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but when you look at the alternative of long-term care, that's a small price to pay.

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But giving him back his independence and his lifestyle, that's priceless.

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Back now to the world of the scrounger and the case against Kerry Melia is building up pace.

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Investigators have become aware that her huge claim for Child Tax Credits

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is partly based on nine foster children

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she appears to have invented.

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It was time to go and see if the Melia family were at home.

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From the outside, Kerry's house certainly didn't look like a home for a very large family.

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So you're telling me they got 14 kids and two adults into a three-bed semi-detached house like this?

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Right-o. What happened when the little one said, "Roll over"?

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On the 28th of July, 2010, we went to Kerry's house to arrest her,

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but found that she was on holiday in Rhyl.

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Only one of Kerry's children and her brother-in-law

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were at the family home that day.

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The rest of the Melia clan were on a caravan holiday in Wales.

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But word soon got through to Kerry that fraud investigators were in her house.

0:22:340:22:40

A couple of hours later, Kerry contacted me.

0:22:400:22:43

I explained that we wanted to arrest her

0:22:430:22:46

and that she would be under arrest for tax credit fraud

0:22:460:22:49

and we would search her house for evidence of those offences

0:22:490:22:53

and to see whether she did have 14 children living there.

0:22:530:22:57

On entering the house, it didn't look fit as a home for one child,

0:22:570:23:01

let alone 14.

0:23:010:23:03

When we got into the house,

0:23:060:23:08

it appeared as if the family had only recently moved in there.

0:23:080:23:12

There was clothing strewn all over the place, boxes,

0:23:120:23:16

bin bags...

0:23:160:23:18

It was very difficult to distinguish the beds underneath all the clothing.

0:23:180:23:23

And while only one of Kerry's children was in evidence,

0:23:230:23:27

investigators did find a whole host of other residents.

0:23:270:23:31

Then we came across various animals and reptiles.

0:23:310:23:35

A snake,

0:23:350:23:37

iguana, cockatiels

0:23:370:23:40

and in the fridge, there were dead mice.

0:23:400:23:43

There was also, on the kitchen floor, an aquarium

0:23:430:23:46

full of tropical fish.

0:23:460:23:49

Investigators had the run of Kerry's house and were on the hunt

0:23:490:23:53

for evidence of her suspect Child Tax Credit claims, but didn't have to look for long.

0:23:530:23:58

With the severity of the situation now dawning on Kerry,

0:23:580:24:03

she rang the investigator back

0:24:030:24:05

and inadvertently landed herself right in it.

0:24:050:24:09

She said, "Please don't look in the cupboards in the kitchen, third drawer down."

0:24:090:24:14

SHE LAUGHS

0:24:140:24:16

Talk about red rag to a bull! One guess what the investigators did next!

0:24:160:24:21

Obviously, we went straight to the drawer

0:24:210:24:24

and in this drawer, we found lots of documents relating to the children -

0:24:240:24:29

their names, their dates of birth,

0:24:290:24:32

something I would consider to be a cheat sheet

0:24:320:24:34

in case she got questioned about them.

0:24:340:24:37

Investigators now had the proof they needed

0:24:370:24:41

that Kerry had fabricated the existence of nine foster children,

0:24:410:24:45

so that she could claim extra benefits.

0:24:450:24:48

By the end of the day, she knew her number was up.

0:24:480:24:52

Later that evening, I received a text from Kerry

0:24:520:24:56

where she said, "I know I've done wrong,

0:24:560:24:58

"I know that my claims are fraudulent and I'm sorry."

0:24:580:25:02

But it was too little, too late.

0:25:020:25:06

When she returned from her caravan holiday in Wales,

0:25:080:25:10

Kerry Melia was asked to attend an interview under caution at the police station.

0:25:100:25:16

Kerry, under cautioned interview,

0:25:160:25:18

admitted that the nine children were fictitious that we had paid tax credits for.

0:25:180:25:25

She also admitted that she had made attempts

0:25:250:25:30

to claim for a further six more.

0:25:300:25:32

Kerry said that she didn't realise what she was doing was fraudulent

0:25:320:25:36

and she knew other people that were doing the same

0:25:360:25:39

and they had never been caught.

0:25:390:25:42

What Kerry Melia was doing was fraudulent.

0:25:420:25:45

She was charged with ten counts of obtaining tax credits by deception.

0:25:450:25:49

On the 29th of July, 2011, she appeared in court

0:25:490:25:53

where she pleaded guilty.

0:25:530:25:55

Over a five-year period,

0:25:580:25:59

Kerry Melia claimed over

0:25:590:26:01

£65,000-worth of Child Tax Credits

0:26:010:26:03

for foster children that didn't exist.

0:26:030:26:06

She was sentenced to eight months of imprisonment.

0:26:080:26:12

Tax credits is designed to help those most needy in society

0:26:140:26:19

and people like Kerry Melia have effectively stolen money

0:26:190:26:22

which was destined for those people in need.

0:26:220:26:25

Kerry set out deliberately to claim for children that didn't exist

0:26:250:26:31

and she was punished as she should have been for this offence.

0:26:310:26:37

The government won't tolerate false claims like Kerry Melia has made.

0:26:370:26:41

Kerry Melia thought she could invent children left, right and centre

0:26:410:26:45

and claim tax credits she wasn't entitled to,

0:26:450:26:48

but those over-inflated claims set alarm bells ringing at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs

0:26:480:26:54

and eventually, her greed was her downfall.

0:26:540:26:57

Subtitles by Subtext for Red Bee Media Ltd 2012

0:27:060:27:09

Life is tough for 30-year-old Kerry; her husband is unemployed, and she has a growing family to look after. Kerry relies on child tax credit. But her family has been growing rapidly, and her tax credit income has swollen to more than £30,000 per year; the HMRC fraud investigators pay her a visit.

Also, Dom meets 71-year-old Ken, who has lost a leg and recently been widowed. The last thing he wants to do is move to a care home, but adapting his own home to suit his needs now will be costly.


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