Timothy Abbott, a Staffordshire medium, has been jailed for eight months after being filmed exercising at the gym whilst claiming he was unfit to work and drawing disability benefits.
Abbott, 54, was prosecuted alongside his wife Jeanette, 50, pleaded guilty to benefit fraud which totalled at a whopping £103,000. The conviction follows a joint investigation between HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Staffordshire County and Borough Councils.
Abbott was sentenced to eight months in prison on four counts of fraud, whilst his wife, who was also claiming disability and living allowance, was given an eight month sentence suspended by 18 months at the court proceedings.
Despite frequently travelling around the world on tour as a spiritual medium, Abbott continued to claim incapacity benefits and living disability allowance from the taxpayer, coming in at £35,496 and £22,848 respectively. It was also revealed that he had failed to pay back £10,000 for income tax and his national insurance contributions. Janette received direct payments from Staffordshire County Council, coming to a total of£44,376. Their respective claims date from 1998 and 2014, leaving the court to decide later in the year just how much the couple will have to pay back.
On average, benefit fraud incurs a loss of £2.0bn per annum for the tax payer and the UK economy out of the allocated £194.bn that goes into benefits every year.
The benefit fraud midlands case and sentencing has been well received by officials involved in the investigations of benefit fraud. Colin Booker, the assistant director of Criminal Investigation at HMRC, had this to say about the prosecution:
“This prosecution will send a strong message that, along with our partners in DWP, we will bring those stealing from the UK economy and the British tax payer to justice.”
Meanwhile Alan White, the Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for health, care and wellbeing, remarked that “it is extremely disappointing to see that someone has shown blatant disregard for others who depend on this money.”
The direct payments that Abbott’s wife received from the council were created in order to give those on benefits more freedom and independence. Evidently, opportunities for exploitation have arisen from this as this case indicates.
Types of Benefit Fraud
Benefit fraud is when a person acts dishonestly in order to receive benefits to which they are not entitled. It is not to be confused with benefit overpayments, which can happen for a variety of reasons, such as the benefit office making a mistake when processing your payments.
Examples of benefit fraud fall into two categories: dishonestly making a false representation or statement and making a representation or statement that is known to false. This includes:
- Deliberately failing to alert the benefit office to a change in your circumstances because you know that your benefits will be affected by that change.
- Omitting or falsifying information about your home circumstances in order to receive more benefits, e.g. claiming benefits as a single parent whilst living with someone.
- Failing to tell the benefit office about your true financial circumstances when you claimed the benefits in question, e.g. claiming jobseeker’s allowance whilst failing to declare any savings.
- Using a false identity and documents in order to claim benefits, e.g. using a fake birth certificate to claim child benefits.
Benefit fraud is taken very seriously, with the Crown Court making a push for longer sentences back in 2013. However, the term is applied to a range of offences and situations that you might not be responsible for. In some instances, you might find yourself under investigation for benefit fraud entirely by accident due to the complexities of applications and the changing of personal circumstances.
If you are suspected of benefit fraud, it’s recommended that you seek out advice immediately from benefit fraud solicitors, especially if you are asked to attend an interview under caution. It’s important that you are able to attend an interview like this with a solicitor present. Stephen Lickrish & Associates, a group of benefit fraud solicitors in Manchester, have a wealth of experience in representing clients through the process, from the interview under caution with the DWP to the trial at the Magistrates or Crown Court. As well as representing in Manchester, they also deal with matters of benefit fraud north west as well as on a national level.