Benefit Fraud- failure to declare property held in trust

Civil Law

07 April 2016

I was with counsel appearing for the Crown, prosecuting on behalf of the local authority. The Defendant had been in receipt of benefits from around 2008-2012. They had received a considerable sum, in the region of £50,000 in housing benefit and council tax benefit over this 4-year claim. The Defendant submitted a number of documents in relation to their claim. When asked: “Do you, your partner or children, own any land in the UK or abroad, or in trust with another person etc.,” they repeatedly answered “no”.

The Defendant inherited an estate from a relative worth £400,000, which was never declared on their housing benefit form. The Will had a clause that stipulated: either 15% of the total of the estate or £15,000- which ever was the lesser to be given to the Defendant’s brother. The Will also allowed the estate to be put into a trust for the benefit of the Defendant’s daughters, once they reached the age of 25, in the event that the Defendant could not take the Will.

Whilst being cross-examined the Defendant admitted to signing the form but stated that; as they had exceeded the amount to give to their brother then the estate reverted to their daughters and as such they had no benefit from it.

However the Defendant purchased a property in America for £200,000 and rented it out as a holiday let. The property was bought in the Defendant’s name and they handled the business of the letting. When they completed their benefit form they were the owner of the property. Counsel emphasised that had the luxurious property been declared then they wouldn’t be entitled to benefits.

The Defendant claimed that the home was in fact in trust for their daughters and they were merely trustees. The court heard that the Defendant was the person benefitting from the property. They flew out there numerous times and on many occasions without their daughters. They received the income from the letting as a holiday home. To put the nail in the coffin the Defendant increased the age that their daughter’s could benefit from the trust from 25 (which was stated in the Will) to 40. This was a clear indication that the Defendant was not only the legal owner of the property but benefiting from the capital.

The Defendant attempted to portray that they were someone who wished to adhere to the exact requests of their relative’s Will (even if this meant depriving their own interests). Yet they changed the age that their daughters could benefit from the estate- in direct contrast to what was asked in the will. Counsel emphasised how they were living a comfortable lifestyle with an income far exceeding many working families.

The Defendant was found guilty on all 3 counts on the indictment and was sentenced to two years.

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