Community service for benefit cheat

A Tooting woman escaped jail despite being convicted to two offences of housing benefit fraud at Wimbledon Magistrates Court last week.

Miss Owusu-Nkansah was instead made the subject of a community punishment order, ordered to perform 180 hours of unpaid work and will have to pay a contribution towards the council’s investigation and legal costs of £750. She will also have to pay back the £3200 she defrauded from Merton Council.

Miss Owusu-Nkansah of Derinton Road, London Borough of Wandsworth, was found guilty on Thursday February 23 with sentencing being deferred until Tuesday March 7.

Miss Owusu-Nkansah made an application to Merton Council for housing benefit and council tax benefit on 19 December 2003 in respect of the house she was renting at 23 Lyveden Road, Tooting. She was awarded £163.40 per week in housing benefit, later rising to £167.25 per week. She also received £6.42 rising to £8.31 in council tax benefit. In all, she received over £3,200 in fraudently obtained benefit. When making the application she failed to inform the Council that she was already a tenant of the London Borough of Wandsworth and was renting a house at Derinton Road.

The existence of the home and its subsequent purchase are material facts when determining the entitlement to Housing Benefit and Miss Owusu-Nkansah admitted in court she had dishonestly withheld this information.

Miss Owusu-Nkansah had no underlying entitlement to benefit so the whole sum of £3,247.28 is recoverable by the Merton Council. Chris Johnson, Head of Audit and Support at Merton said:

‘When someone is in genuine need Merton Council does all it can to ensure they are dealt with fairly and get the benefits they are entitled to, but anyone who claims public money fraudulently must be dealt with as they undermine the whole of the benefits system. We are pleased that the Magistrate recognised the seriousness of this case.’