Merton Council helps put fraudster in jail

A Merton man who admitted defrauding Merton Council and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of nearly £67,000 in benefits is now behind bars.

Michael Belford, 49, defrauded the council of £20,794.75 in Housing Benefit and the DWP of £46,098.52 in Jobseekers’ Allowance – making off with a total of £66,893.27. He took the money in spite of having £125,000 of his own in the bank, more than £100,000 over the amount applicants for these benefits are allowed to possess.

Kingston Crown Court heard how Belford, of Cliveden Road, Wimbledon, admitted he had deliberately not told the DWP he had recently inherited the money when he first applied for Jobseekers’ Allowance. At the same time he also applied for Housing Benefit from Merton Council and again did not disclose how much money he had and dishonestly stated that his only income was from Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Officers from the DWP discovered Belford’s fraud when they were alerted by routine data matching that Belford had hidden savings. The government department immediately contacted investigators at Merton Council and officers from both organisations carried out a thorough investigation. Belford was formally interviewed and confessed to the DWP and Merton Council that his actions were deliberate and dishonest. All the money was recovered.

In court Belford pleaded guilty to a total of seven charges of not declaring his capital and his savings and was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Merton Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for corporate resources, Councillor Samantha George said: “This is a clear example of how Merton Council, working in partnership with the DWP, is able to match up individuals’ data against any benefits they are receiving and discover whether they are actually entitled to those benefits or not.

“The council will not tolerate people committing fraud and will investigate anyone they suspect might be receiving benefits under false pretences. We are committed to providing value for money for our residents and that includes prosecuting those who dishonestly exploit the system.”