Calls to Stoke-on-Trent City Council fraud investigators jumped by nearly 80 per cent during the first few weeks of a high-profile campaign asking people: Know a cheat in your street?
From April to the end of June, a total of 515 reports were made to the authority’s anti-fraud team, compared to 289 in January-March.
Some types of calls more than doubled. There were 88 about suspected council property tenancy fraud (up from 40), while those about people claiming benefits but not disclosing income went up from 30 to 70. Allegations about people failing to declare work rose by 77 per cent (44 to 78).
The most prevalent type of benefit fraud in Stoke-on-Trent is known as ‘living together fraud’, where a person claims benefits on the basis they are single and unemployed, when they are actually living with a partner who’s working. There was a 42 per cent jump in reports of such cases, from 92 to 131.
The year-long ‘Spot the cheater’ campaign is the first of its type run by the authority. It is supported by posters, parking ticket messages, billboards and bus adverts carrying a distinctive image of a cheetah.
Councillor Paul Shotton, the city council’s deputy leader, said: “We launched the campaign in May and these figures, covering only its first few weeks, are very encouraging. I’d like to thank everyone who’s contacted us so far, and hope that people will keep on calling. It’s clear that lots of people in the city have information about possible fraudsters and want them dealt with.
"Our message to genuine and honest council tenants, claimants and council tax payers still stands: you have nothing to worry about. But our investigators are working hard to root out those who wrongly reckon they can cheat the system and get away with it.”
Anyone who suspects such fraud should call the city council’s fraud investigators - in confidence - on 01782 236800 or visit www.stoke.gov.uk/reportfraud
It’s estimated that housing tenancy, housing and council tax benefit, council tax discount and ‘blue badge’ fraud cost councils nearly £3 billion every year:
• Housing tenancy fraud: the most widespread fraud committed against councils. Offenders include anyone who lives in or uses a council property illegally, sub-lets without permission, or leaves the property empty. It denies the 3,000 people on the city’s council housing waiting list a home. And it means the authority has to pay for temporary accommodation - at an average cost of £11,000 per case
• Benefit fraud: do you know someone who claims benefits they’re not entitled to? Perhaps they haven’t declared work, money or assets, or say they live alone but don’t
• Council tax: do you know someone who claims a council tax discount when they shouldn’t? Do they wrongly claim to live alone, be a student, or say the property’s empty when it’s not? Five council tax-related calls were made to the city council’s anti-fraud team April-June, compared with none in the previous three months
• Blue badge fraud: the clampdown is also focusing on people unlawfully using blue badges. No such cases were reported January-March, but there were six by the end of June