Labour Councillor Admits to £8000 Benefit Fraud Scandal

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A Labour Councillor has admitted he is guilty of benefit fraud, benefit-fraud-staffordclaiming over £8000 illegitimately over the last three years.

Ian Hollinshead, a Councillor for the Staffordshire County Council and Stafford Borough Council, has been suspended from his active duties after falsely claiming housing benefit and council tax benefits for nearly three years.

Mr. Hollinshead has admitted his mistake during interviews, and has been made to pay back all the money he claimed.

Mr. Simon Belfield, prosecuting, said that Mr. Hollinshead was over paid by £7,854.17 between April 2011 and March 2014.

He explained that since becoming a borough Councillor, Mr. Hollinshead had failed to notify Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of his change in circumstances, including an increase in income from £117.14 per week to £162.16 per week.

The court also heard that Mr. Hollinshead did not declare an increase in weekly allowance as a borough Councillor, which went from £53.09 per week in 2011 to just over £70 in 2014.

Overall, Mr. Bedfield claimed Mr. Hollinshead’s income had been nearly £9000 in 2011, but had risen to about £22,500 by 2014. This was not including the income generated from Mr. Hollinshead’s self employment.

As a result, it was ruled that the town Councillor was guilty of claiming benefits under illegitimate circumstances and that he would be suspended from duties pending an internal investigation.

Speaking on Hollinshead’s behalf, Mr. David Green, who was mitigating, said:

[quote]He would like to highlight this wasn’t a case involving any dishonesty.

He accepts he acted naively at times and hadn’t given his personal finances the level of attention he should have done.”[/quote]

Mr. Green went on to defend Hollinshead, saying that the fraud was really just “a case of naivety on Mr. Hollinshead’s part”. He explained that the mistake was down to a negligence in administration, rather any deliberate attempt to obtain extra income.

He also pointed out that Mr. Hollinshead had worked in the best interests of the people since becoming a borough Councillor in 2011 and had never claimed any expenses on top of his allowances.

With regards to Mr. Hollinshead’s self-employment, Mr. Green pointed out that he had not generated any income from these avenues.

Mr. Hollinhead was fined £405 (on top of the benefit payments he paid back), as well as £300 in costs and a £20 victim surcharge.

[quote]He just wants to get back to get back to serving the people of Stafford,”[/quote]

Mr. Green said.

A Third of People Will Be Able To Access Flexible Pension, Say HMRC

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It is estimated that 130,000 retired people per year will take money out of their pension pot under new flexibility rules, according to the tax authority.

In the Budget, Chancellor George Osborne said that people who had saved would be able to use their pension pot however they liked. This means that retirees will be able to take it in cash,although the majority of this would be taxed, from next April.

In a document which outlined the impact of the policy which has now been published, HM Revenue and Customs said that a third of people would use this option. Initially, around 400,000 people would have the chance, with 130,000 of them expected to take it. Pension Credit

Until now, most people who have taken part in defined contribution schemes, where the pension amount depends on the amount of investment, bought a pre-set income from a provider when they retired. From next April, people from the age of 55 will be able to take the cash- but only the first 25% would be tax free and the rest would be subject to income tax.

A pensions research insider said:

[quote] “Tax could easily wipe out a sizeable chunk of peoples pension savings, potentially taking many people into the higher rate tax band who have never paid tax at that rate before. Trusting people to act responsibly with their pension savings is a huge step forward, but it is essential to back this with the right guidance and advice.” [/quote]

However, in contrary to this, the organisation Saga had asked 2,400 people over 50 about the new rules, with only 15% saying that they planned to cash in their whole pension. Saga joked that it had found just 23 people who wanted to ‘blow their pension on a Lamborghini and living the high life.’

Saga said that the other half plan to use the money to secure a future income for their retirement.

 

HMRC Forced To Hand Back £4 million To Taxpayers

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Around 90 per cent of complaints made against the taxman were at least ‘partially upheld’ last year, according to the latest report from the Adjudicator’s Office. Within this, around 50% were ‘substantially upheld’ across the year 2013/14.

As a result of these complaints, HMRC paid out an estimated £4 million, returning tax that it had claimed incorrectly as well as redress payments to taxpayers whose complaints reached the Adjudicator’s OBudgeting Loanffice. The office is intended to provide impartial investigations into complaints which are brought up by taxpayers and businesses who are unsatisfied with the handling of their complaints by HMRC, the Valuation Office or the Insolvency Service. If a citizen has already made a complaint to one of these organisations and is not happy with the outcome, they can request a formal review. If they are still not satisfied following this, that is when their complaint is taken to the Adjudicator’s Office who review the case and decide whether to uphold.

If the office decides to uphold the complaint, it can be settled by mediation, where both parties reach an agreement. In 2013/14, 55% of complaints were settled in this way. If this fails, the complaints can be settled by recommendation. Occasionally, the complaint will not be upheld at all, in which case, if you can provide new evidence you can ask it to be reconsidered.

Most of the £4 million that was paid to taxpayers came from liability given up where HMRC had taken too much money in tax. In some cases, it will be recommended that HMRC pay out more than what is owed in order to compensate for poor service and relevant costs.

HMRC can take too much tax in a range of ways, such as Income Tax and Corporation Tax.

 

Ex-DWP Employees Set Up Website To Help Unfairly Penalised Claimants

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Three ex-employees from the DWP have set up a website to help dwp-benefits-claimant-helpclaimants with cases of unfair sanctioning over their benefits.

The website, jobseekersanctionadvice.com, has recently gone viral and a flood of more than 200 messages from distressed claimants has given the site’s founders more than they expected.

[quote]”We didn’t promote the website, we just had a few inquiries and helped a few people. Then it got picked up and everything went bananas,”[/quote]

said one of the founders, who goes by the false name of ‘Jean’ to protect her identity.

The decision to build the site was made by three dissatisfied DWP employees after their resignation from the government body left them wanting to help claimants.

Jean explained:

[quote]I decided one Sunday to resign and I never went back. I had loved the job until the last three years but then I could see the way things were going.

I got tired of fighting for the system.”[/quote]

Jean says that she slowly became disillusioned by the methods required to process claimants’ application for benefits, with each employee given targets on how many claims they should veto in a day.

[quote]It’s a harsh environment…everything is designed to trip people up. They are asked to do things that are unsuitable.

Some offices are OK and others aren’t. It all depends what manager you have.”[/quote]

Jean took to helping people via online forums with her knowledge and expertise, but said that the more she became involved, “the more outraged I became”.

She managed to join forces with two like-minded ex-colleagues and set up the website, which has been bombarded with more than 200 messages in the last few days alone.

The messages have been from people who feel they have been unfairly penalised or sanctioned by the DWP, having benefits taken away from them; not getting what they feel they are owed or being punished for making a small mistake on their application form.

Last year, the DWP carried out an internal investigation into the practices of its Jobcentres, but said it found no secret targets imposed on employees; either nationally or locally.

[quote]There are no secret targets for sanctions and we have a well-established system of hardship provision in place,”[/quote]

said a DWP spokesman to The Independent.

[quote]Decisions on sanctions aren’t taken lightly, but its only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able.”[/quote]

However, a recent survey of Jobcentre staff by the Public and Commercial Sector union (PCS) showed that almost two thirds of them had experienced pressure to sanction claimants inappropriately.

General secretary of the PCS, Mark Serwotka, said that the sanctions ought be scrapped entirely as they serve no purpose “other than to demonise and punish people” for being out of work.

Proposal for Taxman to Raid Taxpayers’ Bank Accounts Met with Criticism

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A proposal to allow the taxman to raid taxpayers’ bank accounts HM Revenue and Customs failureswithout permission has been met with heavy criticism based on grave errors made by HMRC.

The new idea placed on the table by government would make it possible for the tax office to confiscate assets of those with unpaid tax without permission. David Cameron says the system could be a ‘vital new cog’ in the current tax system, helping to clamp down on tax avoiders and reduce the amount of unpaid tax each year.

However, experts have labelled the idea as “unconstitutional”; “against the magna carta”; a “smash and grab” approach to tax collection and “potentially illegal”.

[quote]There is good reason many feel unease over a plan to allow the Revenue unfettered access to millions of bank accounts,”[/quote]

writes The Telegraph’s Dan Hyde in his latest personal finance column.

[quote]To put it bluntly: how can we entrust such immense power to an organisation that so frequently makes errors?”[/quote]

Such thinking is not unfamiliar to the majority of taxpayers, many of whom are sure to have been on the end of the HMRC’s many miscalculations and mix-ups. One such case was that of 70 year old Rod Smith – a retired tax office worker who had served the HMRC for his entire career.

In 2008, Mr. Smith received a surprise tax bill for £3,917 covering the period 2004 to 2007. As it turned out, HMRC had issued the wrong code for deductions for this period and had not collected enough tax; however the error took four years to come to light and had been out of the hands of Mr. Smith, who was under the impression his taxes were in order.

After miscalculating the correct tax for one of their own staff and taking four years to realise it, HMRC then had the audacity to demand the payment from Mr. Smith almost immediately, within 30 days. After appealing the tax bill with the help of The Sunday Telegraph, Mr. Smith was refunded the £3,917 and paid an extra £150 in compensation.

However, he acknowledged that if he had handled things by himself, the result “would not have been as positive”.

Indeed, Mr. Smith is not alone. More than five million workers were charged the wrong amount of tax in 2013-14, and HMRC was forced to repay or write off £4 million in tax in the 12 months to April after thousands approached the Tax Adjudicator for help.

The adjudicator found that, in nine out of ten cases, the taxpayer was eligible for a concession on their tax deductions, suggesting that HMRC is making errors that could easily be avoided.

Judy Clements, head of the adjudicator’s office, said:

[quote]Many complains should have been resolved without the customer needing to refer the matter to me.

I see far too many cases where a conversation with the customer early on would have enabled a straightforward resolution to the issue. [HMRC’s] communication with affected taxpayers is poor.”[/quote]