The group won asylum in Britain after saying they had depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) from the conflict in Iraq. They then claimed disability payments plus housing benefits worth up to £2,000 a week in what was described as a ‘wholesale onslaught on our welfare system.’ (But this isn’t unusual in the UK -see examples below)
UK Daily Mail Many of the fraudsters have Dutch and Danish passports and were believed to be living and claiming further benefits in other EU countries while also letting out their taxpayer-funded homes in Britain.
The scandal was exposed when Lindsey Hall, anti-fraud tsar at Westminster council in London, raised the alarm following a massive increase in housing benefit claims after Labour introduced the generous local housing allowance in 2008.
She said: ‘The debate about the abuse of the welfare system is shrouded in political correctness. But this is not a witch-hunt, it’s about criminality.
‘These men went to extreme lengths to commit benefits fraud. In some cases they would take drugs to fake delirium to convince doctors they had a mental disability or post-traumatic stress.
‘To keep the ruse up they would continue to regularly pick up the eight or nine medical drugs prescribed by doctors to treat their non-existent syndrome, which they would then dump, adding an extra cost to the NHS.
‘Once you have secured disability living allowance on the basis of being a PTSD sufferer, the benefit can be granted indefinitely, so they could leave Britain and continue to receive the benefit.’
She said the scandal came to her attention after hard-working Iraqi residents in the area complained that fraud was out of control, but they were terrified of the repercussions of speaking out because of the criminal gang behind it.
Miss Hall added: ‘In some of the blocks of flats we targeted, 95 per cent of the people living there were not the ones claiming housing benefit on the properties.
‘The costs from false housing benefits alone when we started investigating were more than £1milllion and historically could be far more than that.
‘At the same time we had to close down day care centres which played a vital role in the local community because we couldn’t afford the £100,000 a year to keep them open.’
The Serious Organised Crime Agency investigated and, with the Department for Work and Pensions, has issued a warning to councils about the scandal.
SOCA said: ‘In some instances corrupt professionals may have facilitated the criminal activity.’
The fraudsters would often provide false proof of employment, sometimes naming the same fictitious organisation, to qualify for housing benefit on the grounds of low pay. They would then claim up to £2,000 a week in rent. ‘Complicit property agents may have been used to facilitate claimants’ access to high rental value properties,’ SOCA added.
Illegal sub-letting of homes offered further gains and ‘in several cases the original claimant was found to be no longer resident in the UK.
‘Claimants who travelled overseas for sustained periods of over 12 weeks were still able to claim housing benefit and it is difficult for the Department for Work and Pensions to establish if a claimant is travelling into or out of the UK.’