Legal history has just been made with a judge returning a “Guilty” verdict on a family of benefit cheats.
Riccardo, Bianca and Cosima Guthrie were found guilty of housing benefit and council tax benefit fraud and given custodial sentences. A fourth defendant, Courtney Campbell was given a suspended sentence and 160 hours community service.
After extensive investigations spanning 4-years by police and Barnet council with the Corporate Anti-fraud Team, it was revealed that the Guthries had used housing benefit to fund mortgage repayments on five houses including three in Barnet, one in Ealing and another in Waltham Forest. Establishing themselves as landlords, they then established tenants into each of the houses.
Sentencing, Riccardo Guthrie to 3-year imprisonment, his sister, Bianca to 2 years and his other sister Cosima to an 18 month prison sentence, Richard Cornelius, Barnet’s council leader said: “This was a systematic and highly organised attack on the benefit system to cheat the taxpayer out of more than £100,000.”
The Guthries had amassed a property empire well worth £1.5million through the fraudulent claims and subsequent payments made through housing benefit and had pocketed thousands in benefit payments.
Stronger measures to catch benefit cheats such as the Guthries could reduce spending within housing benefit expenditure while restoring some fairness to genuine applicants.
The numbers surrounding the total of benefit fraud is unknown, as there is obviously far more cheats that have not been recognised or caught.
Government reform to welfare benefits will see massive reductions in housing benefit, affecting genuine people in receipt of local housing allowance.
While genuine unemployed people and low-income households will adhere to the new benefit caps, the total bill paid by UK taxpayers could be sorely undermined by benefit cheats who prosper from fraudulent claims, inflating numbers and spending in the sector.
Fraudulent housing benefit claims inflate expenditure on overall benefits bill’, correspondence from DWP reveal the government is expecting Housing Benefit expenditure to reach £20 billion this year. A spokesman for the DWP said that housing benefit had reached unmanageable levels, with many customers entering into rental commitments that people earning a reasonable wage would not consider.
With fierce opposition fighting against proposed housing benefit caps, the number of benefit cheats setting out to fraudulently gain housing benefit are causing harm to genuine people claiming the benefit and adding fuel and further evidence to the government’s call for welfare reform.
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