December 13 2013 Latest news:
Friday, October 12, 2012
Jonathan Lincoln, 30, caught by colleagues fraudulently claiming council tax discount after posting about his family on Facebook and Twitter
A benefits officer has avoided jail after being caught by colleagues fraudulently claiming council tax discount after he posted on social media websites about his family.
Married father-of-two Jonathan Lincoln was exposed after he failed stringent ID and address checks for staff working in the benefits department of Medway Council.
Shocked colleagues found he had not only illegally claimed a 25 per cent council tax discount for living as a single person – despite living with his wife and family – but had also turned a blind eye to his wife Ellen Lincoln’s bogus income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit claims.
The judge, recorder Joshua Swirsky, sentenced him to a 16-week prison sentence suspended for one year, ordered him to carry out 150 hours community service and to pay £500 towards costs.
He gave Mrs Lincoln, 29, a conditional discharge for 12 months.
Sentencing Mr Lincoln, Mr Swirsky told him: “Your case is considerably aggravated. You breached the trust of your employers. The public would not be satisfied if the crown did not treat this offence as serious.”
After colleagues were alerted to the matter, surveillance was carried out on the address Mrs Lincoln was claiming from to prove Mr Lincoln also lived there.
Investigators checked his bank and utility bill records as well as social media and other internet websites.
During the probe they discovered he repeatedly wrote on his open Facebook wall about holidays to Disneyland Paris and other places with his wife and their children.
Posts about the couple having rows, spending time together for their wedding anniversary and buying presents for each other were also put on his Facebook wall, which was open for anyone to see.
Further searches showed he had written on a camping forum website about weekends away with the family and had even made a family application using his council email account for the Medway Mile – an annual fun run held by Medway Council.
Mr Lincoln started working for Medway Council in 2006 as a customer services officer and made claims for a 25 per cent living alone discount on his council tax for two addresses in Gillingham – Davenport Avenue and then Gardiner Street .
In December 2009, he applied to move departments at the council and took up work as a trainee benefit assessor, assessing claims for council tax benefit and housing benefit.
But when he failed to provide documentation required under vetting procedures his colleagues noticed a discrepancy in his personal details held on council computers.
During the investigation, social network sites such as Twitter were also searched.
In one open posting late at night in May 2011, Lincoln stated: “Ann Summers party has finished…now just trying to get rid of her chavy mate again so we can go to bed!!” In another note posted on Twitter several months later, he referred to a Medway Council press release about a lady fined for dropping a cigarette stating “haha…that’s my landlady.”
It was discovered the lady owned the Gardiner Street property he and his family were living in and a tenancy agreement held for the rental of the property was in the name of Mr and Mrs Lincoln, who are now separated.
Benefit investigators also discovered Mr Lincoln had – when claiming a council tax discount – emailed the council using an email address with the name capnjack in it.
Internet searches of the username capnjack showed various messages from him on a site called Magic Forum, dedicated to fans posting views on Disneyland Paris.
In one posting in April 2011, Mr Lincoln – writing under the name Captain Jack Sparrow – discussed moving to the world famous resort for work stating he will go alone if its short term or if it is long term he will ‘go alone until we can all relocate’.
He was charged and later admitted in court making false representations to claim a single person discount on his council tax in April 2007 in relation to the Davenport Avenue address and a similar count for making a false claim in July 2009 for the Gardiner Street home.
He also pleaded guilty to two counts of allowing or prompting his wife to falsely claim income support and housing benefit and council tax benefit between December 2010 and August 2011.
His wife also pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to notify a change in circumstances in relation to living with her husband, who was working, while she claimed income support and council tax benefit and housing benefit.
At Maidstone Crown Court, prosecutor Philip Sinclair said the charges related to £904.50 fraudulently claimed by Mr Lincoln for single person allowance for council tax, and £5,616.07 in relation to claims for income support and housing and council tax benefit.
Mr Sinclair told the court that various other pieces of evidence had come to light during the course of the investigation that showed the couple were living together and that Jonathan Lincoln was ‘essentially the bill payer for the property.”
Kerry Moore – defending Mr Lincoln – said his client started claiming single person allowance for council tax before he took up work with Medway Council’s benefit team.
He added: “He did not have the strength of character or the honesty to stop the claim when he started with Medway Council. He has let down himself, his family, those that employed him and all the taxpayers of this country.”
Following the hearing Medway Council’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for finance, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “All of Medway Council’s staff are expected to carry out their jobs with integrity and honesty and we will always take action against anyone, no matter who they are, if any form of wrong-doing is ever discovered.
“What is so surprising about this case is that this member of staff was a benefits assessor who attempted to defraud Medway’s taxpayers by cheating the benefits system.
“It is a credit to his colleagues within the benefits section of the council that when they discovered what he was up to, they set about investigating him and making sure he was brought to justice. They were shocked that he could attempt to cheat money in this way while working alongside them and were determined to make sure he did not get away with it.
“I am pleased that as soon as this came to light a full and swift investigation was carried out by council staff, that this man was dismissed from his job and that now he and his wife have been dealt with by the courts.”