The new man in charge of Social Security, which sits under the newly-created Customer and Local Services Department, says one of the toughest challenges his team faces is keeping the identity of his team of six fraud investigators a secret in a small community.
Their anonymity is said to be key to cracking cases.
A total of 1,548 cases were investigated for suspected fraud worth a combined £1,464,374 across 2015, 2016 and 2017. The most serious resulted in criminal prosecutions.
Steve Jackson, group director of Customer Operations for Customer and Local Services, said: ‘We treat fraudulent benefit claims very seriously, as we are very conscious of our obligation to protect the taxpayers who fund these benefits. The actions of the fraud team ensure that a deterrent is in place for any fraudulent activity.’
Reports of benefit fraud are assessed against a UK gold standard for weeding out bogus claims, called the National Intelligence Model. It helps spot genuine mistakes, from which claimants are then asked to make repayments, freeing up more time for the investigators to focus on financial criminals.
One of their biggest recent successes was the conviction in April of a woman who failed to declare she lived with her husband whilst claiming income support worth £75,760. She was jailed for 2½ years.
In his summing up at the Royal Court trial, the Bailiff concluded: ‘In our view the offences you have committed must be marked by a period of custody. There was no doubt that you understood how the income support system worked and in particular that you understood that if there were to be a change of circumstances that you have an obligation to tell the department.’
Mr Jackson said: ‘The cases vary in size and scale throughout the year. The time taken to conclude an investigation varies, depending on the nature and complexity of the case. A complex case referred for criminal prosecution can take months from beginning to end.’
‘We are very conscious of our obligation to protect the taxpayers who fund these benefits to ensure they are targeted to those people who need them. Social Security will use all available powers when investigating benefit fraud, including prosecution, which may result in a custodial sentence.’
The department is renewing its call to Islanders to report suspected benefit fraud by either calling the freephone hotline, 0800 735 1111 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr Jackson added: ‘The Social Security Department treats fraudulent benefit claims very seriously. We must stress it is the responsibility and accountability of a customer to advise Social Security of a change in their circumstances and we pursue all monies falsely claimed, either fraudulently or otherwise.’