Saturday, September 11, 2010

'Disabled' man showed off fancy dance moves

Sep 11, 2010

LONDON: Terence Read is the sort of person who should inspire admiration. The 61-year-old is a picture of perfect health: At a recent dance competition in Manchester, he twirled his partner on the dance floor in a routine that included the Charleston and jitterbug.

Unfortunately for him, a secret agent from Britain's Department for Work and Pensions was also present.

And for good reason: According to government records, Read can barely walk and has claimed about &pound20,000 (S$41,400) in disability benefits over the past decade.

So the dance contest ended up badly: Read was arrested and sentenced to 12 months of unpaid community service.

According to official government figures, welfare fraud costs the British taxpayer about &pound5.2 billion a year.

The biggest obstacle to fighting fraud is the fact that Britons do not have to carry identity cards; verifying their claims or even their names and residences can be difficult.

But British commercial organisations can collect plenty of personal data about people.

The country's credit agencies - used by banks and credit card companies to assess the standing and honesty of potential borrowers - hold every detail about a person's spending patterns, as well as the property he owns or rents.

So the government has now tied up with these agencies, which will be paid a percentage of any fraudulent claim they manage to uncover.

[So if you want to defraud the govt, make sure your credit history matches. And why are private commercial organisation collecting more info on people than the govt? Trust no one?]

The government has also resorted to more original methods to detect fraud.

Kim Stokes, who claimed &pound15,000 in social security benefits as a single mother of two young children, forgot this tiny detail when she posted on Facebook pictures of herself with her 'hubby', with whom she claimed to be 'very much in love'.

Unfortunately for her, government inspectors also have Facebook accounts and noted her profile.

Nobody pretends that such measures will eliminate fraud, although the government hopes the amount of publicity given to these cases will deter future transgressors.

But the public remains furious about a different problem with welfare abuse: that of public housing.

Under Britain's laws, the local authorities are obliged to provide a roof for anyone who is homeless in their area, even if the person is a foreigner applying for asylum. Hundreds of thousands of such claims are made each year and the local authorities often end up housing them in hotels or expensive commercially rented properties.

The claimants carry no responsibility: The more children they have, the greater the property they are entitled to.

And, to make matters worse, some of those who get public housing subsequently sublet their property to others, and make a profit.

[We do that here too. Of course it's illegal/against the rules and HDB will evict violators.]

A National Fraud Initiative - a data-matching operation run by the government - is now designed to catch such cheats.

But the results remain insignificant: only 75 fraudsters were caught in the last three years.


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