A READING woman has been successfully prosecuted for defrauding Reading Council of over £60k over a period of 3 years in what is believed to be the largest ever direct payment fraud in the country.
Following a 12 day trial at Reading Crown Court, which started on 5th December, Bia Abdul, age 45 of Audley Street, Reading, was found guilty on eight counts of fraud, including fraud by abuse of position, concealing criminal property, three counts of furnishing false information and three counts of fraud by false representation.
The mother of a disabled daughter, Mrs Abdul was in receipt of, and managed, her daughter’s personal budget direct benefit payments since 2013, over which time she supplied the direct payments team with false information suggesting she had spent the money on her daughter’s professional care; when in reality she had used the funds for things unrelated to her daughter’s care package.
The court heard how the defendant took great care to ensure she wouldn’t be found out and went to extensive lengths to deceive the Council and several other credit organisations, including Home Retail Group (ARGOS), Vanquis Bank and Newday Ltd.
Mrs Abdul provided the Council with false information, supported by false payment references in her online banking. In addition, Mrs Abdul generated a large number of false invoices for several care companies, one of which had not supplied her daughter’s care since 2013.
The fraudulent behaviour came to light in 2016, prompted by discrepancies in the paperwork submitted by the defendant that warranted further checks and the full extent of Mrs Abdul’s large-scale fraud of the benefits system was uncovered.
On 16th January, Judge Talbot sentenced Mrs Abdul to a custodial sentence of 2 years imprisonment (suspended for 2 years) in addition to a curfew and 50 hours of unpaid community service.
The judge noted that Mrs Abdul had shown no remorse for her offences and said her culpability was high. The offences she committed involved a degree of planning to deceive the Council and the amount she stole and the time-frame of the offences were also aggravating factors. However, the judge was unable to award any costs against Mrs Abdul due to her inability to pay and it was felt that if an immediate custodial sentence was imposed on her it would have a negative impact upon her daughter.
Cllr Tony Jones, Reading’s Lead Member for Adult Social Care, said: “The successful prosecution was the culmination of a proactive Council investigation which successfully uncovered a large-scale fraud of the Direct Payments system. This was a very difficult offence to identify and prove; and shows just how much effort went into concealing this particular fraud.
“This prosecution is due to the hard work and diligence of the Council’s Fraud and Investigation Team, who worked closely with Thames Valley Police, to gather the necessary evidence. I’d like to thank all the officers involved in securing this conviction.
“The Council will not hesitate to investigate instances where fraud is suspected and – where necessary – prosecute. We hope the prosecution will serve as a warning to those who consider deliberately committing fraud.
“Since this case, the Council has put in place an online account system which, as well as improving the service for clients, helps prevent the misuse of funds and enables officers to more easily identify any unusual spending activities.”
People can help prevent fraud by reporting it online here: www.reading.gov.uk/fraud
A Personal Budget is a specific benefit given to those with a disability in order for them to access specialist care. It can only be used for specific purposes related to that individual’s care. A Personal Budget can be paid as a ‘Direct Payment’; whereby the money is given directly to the individual or their nominated suitable person. This gives the individual more control and flexibility to access care that best suits their needs. They are responsible for the money and need to account to the local authority for how it has been spent. For more information visit www.reading.gov.uk/directpayment