BENEFIT cheats have swindled Scarborough taxpayers out of close to half a million pound over the last three years.
Figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request by the Evening News to Scarborough Borough Council show that 69 benefit cheats have illegally claimed £424,007 since 2009 in council tax and housing benefit.
On average, council benefit cheats are costing the public £2,717 a week, with each crook falsely claiming over £6,000 on average.
However, as these figures only show the amount claimed by those convicted of benefit fraud, the figure could potentially be much higher.
Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said that benefit fraud currently costs the country over £1 billion per year.
He added: “This money is intended to help those most in need not line the pockets of criminals. We will continue to tackle this problem at the front line but also at the root by reforming the benefits system to make it less open to abuse.”
Combined, Scarborough Borough Council dishes out £47.1 million a year in housing and council tax benefit alone.
Scarborough Borough Council’s Revenues and Benefits Manager, David Ponton Brown, said the council was taking an increasingly tougher stance against benefit cheats, which has seen 26 convictions already this year for fraudulent claims totalling £232,387.
Mr Ponton Brown said: “The success of tackling housing and council tax benefit fraud in Scarborough reflects the effective multi-agency joint working, the professional expertise of the council’s Counter Fraud Investigation team built up over a number of years plus a greater awareness of benefit fraud by honest council taxpayers living in the borough realising that they are funding fraudsters.
“Particularly at times when we are all struggling to cope with the difficult financial climate both individually and the country as a whole, it is legally and morally wrong for anyone to claim public money that they are not entitled to and expect everyone else to pick up the tab.
“The council takes a serious stance with any fraud discovered and will take appropriate action which includes seeking to recover any overpayment, in full, in each proven case.”
Benefits such as income support and jobseekers allowance were not included in the council disclosure, as they are dealt with by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
However, Scarborough Council have worked alongside the DWP to help prosecute fraudsters claiming those benefits.
John Carter, Fraud Investigation Manager for the DWP, issued a warning to those who are, or thinking about, committing benefit fraud.
“No one should think they can get away with benefit theft,’ he said.
“DWP and local authority investigators are working together to track down those guilty of stealing money they are not entitled to, bringing them before the courts and making them face the consequences of their action.”
Anyone who suspects someone is fraudulently claiming benefits can call the National Benefit Fraud Hotline on 0800 854440. Calls are treated in total confidence.