Lambeth Council has sent a clear warning to potential benefit cheats this week after two fraudsters who falsely claimed thousands of pounds were brought to justice.
The council is determined to protect every penny of its resources to ensure vital council funds can be spent where they are most needed. Lambeth has a dedicated team of benefit fraud investigators who painstakingly pursue those who cheat the system through the courts, work that saves taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.
Cllr Paul McGlone, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, said: “These most recent prosecutions show yet again the council’s absolute commitment to protect the public purse and our determination to root out benefit fraud and bring those responsible to justice.
“The benefit system is there for people who genuinely need it, and benefit fraudsters deprive those who really need support from us from getting it. We will not tolerate benefit cheats in Lambeth and this sends out a clear message that we will always prosecute.”
In the first case former Lambeth resident John Gattrell, 58, formerly of Cubitt House, Clapham was convicted of benefit fraud amounting to almost £20,000 Gattrell claimed benefits from 2006 to 2009 on the basis that he had no income or capital and that he was resident at Cubitt House. He had failed to declare that in early 2007 he had inherited a property in Oriel Road, Portsmouth against which he had taken out a loan of £89,000. He had moved to the address in Portsmouth during 2006 after his Mother became ill.
The offence came to light after a proactive investigation carried out by Lambeth Council’s Internal Audit and Anti Fraud Division indicated that Gattrell was no longer resident at the Council Property at Cubitt House. Gattrell pleaded guilty at Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court on 13th September 2010 of failing to declare ownership of the property, his vacation of Cubitt House and possession of capital of £89,000. He had obtained £19,761.72 fraudulently from Lambeth Council and the Department for Work and Pensions for the period December 2006 to August 2009. He was due to be sentenced on 28th September 2010 but failed to attend. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
Gattrell was eventually arrested on 1st July 2011 and sentenced on 4th July 2011 to 18 weeks in custody, suspended for two years. A curfew order was imposed for a period of 12 weeks where Gattrell will be electronically tagged and must remain at his home address between the hours of 5pm and 5am. He was ordered to pay costs of £500.00.
In another case, Patrick Kouassi of Rosendale Road, Herne Hill, claimed Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefits between September 2008 and August 2010 amounting to more than £11,000, claiming to have no other source of income. Kouassi failed to declare that he was a full-time student at South Bank University during this period, making him ineligible to receive either Job Seekers Allowance or Housing Benefits. He admitted when interviewed that he failed to declare his student status due to financial difficulties as he knew that his benefits would cease if he had declared this.
Kouassi pleaded guilty at Camberwell Green Magistrates on 27th June and was sentenced at the same Court on 5th July. He was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.
Lambeth was one of the first councils in London to have a police officer working in the council to assist with fraud investigations, an arrangement that has saved the council hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.