Tag Archives: Benefit Fraud

Barrister jailed for benefit fraud – Nadine Wilson-Ellis gets 7 months

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Nadine Wilson-Ellis was convicted on 19th July 2013 of ‘two offences under the Fraud Act’. It seems that she was granted a council tenancy in Bristol in November 2009 on the basis that she was living and working in the city and was an unemployed single parent with one child. This was untrue however – she was living with her husband in Nottingham and working as a Law lecturer getting £30,000 a year (and sub-letting her Council Flat). The Council discovered that she had received about £10,000 over a period of 3 years from the fraud.

Ms Wilson-Ellis apparently owned two homes but applied for a larger house (as she had two children) in 2011 where the documents she submitted in relation to this were found to be false and the deception unravelled.

It’s not clear exactly what offences Ms Wilson-Ellis was found guilty of. It sounds as though the offences were in relation to obtaining a council tenancy that she was not entitled to. It is possible that there was a charge relating to the use of false documents.

Contrary to the popular view, the Courts tend to chuck the book at one of their own who get caught misbehaving.

The BBC News story is here.

Judges’s sentencing remarks

The Judge said:

“Your behaviour inevitably resulted in a more deserving claimant being denied the accommodation that was offered to you,”

“It was a fraud that was calculated, deliberate and planned.

“In defending yourself you brazenly lied in the fact of the most damning evidence, which fortunately the jury saw through.”

Sentence

She was sentenced to 7 months immediate custody.

There was no plea of guilty and so there could be no credit.

It seems as though the fraud was fraudulent from the outset and carried out over a significant period. These are factors which if correct, the Judge would have taken into account.

The guidelines are here and looking at benefit fraud, the range appears to be high community order – 12 months (looking at the £5-20,000 box, ‘fraudulent from the outset and carried out over a significant period or multiple frauds’).

It is presumed that she had no convictions and was of good character. That most likely made for little mitigation.

In mitigation, the courts have held that it is correct to take into account the loss of a career as a mitigating factor, however, many judges do not, as they believe that a) that is part of the punishment and b) that the offender knew that was a risk when committing the offences and were willing to ‘throw it all away’. In cases where the offender is a single parent and the argument is that the children need the parent to care for them (and so a custodial sentence should be avoided) some judges believe that is an aggravating factor because of the willingness to risk a custodial sentence.

It is difficult to assess the level of sentence as we are unsure of the offences of which she was convicted, but on a simple assessment of the criminality (as what we know from the news reports) against the 7 month sentence, it certainly appears to be in the correct bracket, with a bit of an uplift for the fact she was a barrister.

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Barrister in the Dock for Council Housing swindle

The same day that a Liverpool solicitor was getting banged up in Birmingham, a barrister was in Court in Bristol. Nothing unusual in that you may say, but this one was unfortunately on the wrong side of the dock.

Nadine Wilson-Ellis was convicted on 19th July 2013 of ‘various offences under the Fraud Act’. It seems that she was granted a council tenancy in Bristol in November 2009 on the basis that she was living and working in the city and was an unemployed single parent with one child. This was untrue however – she was living with her husband in Nottingham and working as a Law lecturer getting £30,000 a year (and sub-letting her Council Flat).

Ms Wilson-Ellis apparently owned two homes but applied for a larger house (as she had two children) in 2011 where the documents she submitted in relation to this were found to be false and the deception unravelled.

It’s not clear exactly what offences Ms Wilson-Ellis was found guilty of. It may be that she was claiming housing benefit, or it may be that it was in relation to obtaining a council tenancy that she was not entitled to. Either way, there was probably a charge or two relating to the use of false documents. In the absence of that it’s hard to know what sentence she is looking at but, contrary to the popular view, the Courts tend to chuck the book at one of their own who get caught misbehaving. Until then, here’s a look at the Sentencing Guidelines for Fraud to be getting on with …

She will be sentenced on the 9th August and we will return to it then. It may well be a headline of ‘barrister behind bars’ …

 

Amanda Webber sentenced to 4 years for £353,000 benefit fraud

webber_benefitsFacts

On 23rd May 2013 Amanda Webber, a mother of eight, was found guilty of multiple counts of benefit fraud. It was different, and far more serious, than most of the cases that a Court will see in this category of offences.

Ms Webber claimed that five of her children had disabilities or medical conditions that impacted on their lives, and claimed various benefits (Disability Living Allowance, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Carers Allowance and tax credits) as a result. There was a lengthy trial – five weeks – where the jury heard evidence that the children were leading “active lives, taking part in PE and activities including music, drama and dance. Some even auditioned for ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent show“.

The total value of the fraud was £353,000 over a 12year period.

When dealing with benefit fraud, it is common for there to be a Pre-Sentence Report, but in this case the Judge has adjourned the sentencing for tomorrow (which won’t be enough time to do a report). This is probably because it is so serious that he will send her to prison.

The starting point is the Fraud Sentencing Guidelines (page 25).

Sentence

Webber was sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment.

It is assumed that this was not professionally planned but was fraudulent from the outset. We know that the fraud was committed over a significant period – 12 years. A 4-year sentence is within the guidelines – just – which suggest a starting point of 3 years and a range of 2-4 years.

As this is at the top of the range, the judge must have determined that an uplift was appropriate. It is certainly relevant that Webber was using her children in order to commit the fraud. That will have been an aggravating factor. Similarly, the fact that the fraud was used to fund a lavish lifestyle – including private education and “every material advantage” – will also have been an aggravating factor.

Bear in mind there is no credit for a guilty plea.

In mitigation, it can be assumed reliance was placed on the fact that courts are reluctant to separate children from their mothers, especially when they are still of school-age. Courts are mindful of the effect upon the children and of course have to bear in mind the human rights of the child and of the mother. R v Petherick 2012 EWCA Crim 2214 examined this subject.

In this case, clearly the Judge determined that notwithstanding that factor, the offending was so serious that a 4 year sentence was warranted.

Judge Niblett said: “You have chosen to have eight children and to live your life as you have, but you are not entitled to do so at the expense of your fellow citizens who work hard and struggle on modest incomes.”

Appeal

Expect an appeal. The argument is likely to be two-fold, namely a) the sentence is too long in any event, having regard to the guidelines and b) the sentence failed to pay proper regard to the effect upon the children of an immediate custodial sentence of 4 years.

A reduction in sentence is certainly possible, however I certainly see nothing wrong with a sentence of 4 years.

Confiscation

Prosecutor Andrew Evans said the Crown would be looking to start confiscation proceedings against Webber to recover some of the money.

Benefit Fraud

Legislation: Social Security Administration Act 1992 / Fraud Act 2006

For the purposes of this note, the focus will be on the Social Security Administration Act, as this appears to be the most-commonly used Act for charging benefit fraud offences.  Furthermore, the CPS guidance refers to this rather than the Fraud Act.

Definition:

1. Dishonest offences:

  • Dishonestly making a false statement or representation (s.111(1)(a) SSAA 1992)
  • Dishonestly producing a false document or allowing it to be produced (s.111(1)(b) SSAA 1992)
  • Dishonestly failing to promptly notify of a change in circumstances affecting benefit (s.111(1A) SSAA 1992)
  • Dishonestly failing to notify of a change in circumstances affecting another person’s benefit (s.111(1B) SSAA 1992)

2. Non-dishonest offences:

  • s. 112 – as per the above but lacking the mental element of dishonesty.

Explanation:

Mode of trial: Dishonest offences are triable either-way.  Non-dishonest offences are triable only summarily.

Maximum sentence: Dishonest offences – 6 months/7 years on indictment.  Non-dishonest offences – fine not exceeding level 5 and/or 3 months

Examples:

  • False statement / representation:

Lying about employment; i.e. telling the benefit agency that you are unemployed when in fact you are working and getting paid for that work.

  • False document:

Producing a false identity document; i.e. a document pertaining to give a national insurance number (necessary when claiming benefit) when in fact you are not entitled to a NINO.

  • Change in circumstances:

Starting work/ceasing to claim JSA; i.e. failing to inform the relevant authority of the cessation of Job-Seekers allowance/commencement of employment.

  • Change in circumstances affecting another’s benefit:

Where X is responsible for Y and Y moves out of the remit of the benefit agency; i.e. X has power of attorney in relation to Y.  Y lives in Greenwich and claims housing benefit and council tax benefit (lawfully) from LocalAuthorityA.  X then moves Y to LocalAuthorityB.  X is obliged to inform LocalAuthorityA of the move, as thereafter LocalAuthorityB becomes liable to pay Y’s benefit.

CPS guidance can be found here