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Maerdy couple forced to pay back proceeds of crime

A Maerdy couple who defrauded over £52,000 from the benefits system now face being forced to sell their home in order to pay back the proceeds of their crime.

Dean and Nicola Harrison, of Pentre Road, have been ordered by a court to repay the proceeds within six months – or face imprisonment.

The sobering court ruling marks the end of a long and complex legal process led by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council as it continues its campaign to tackle benefit fraud, deal with offenders and ensure public funds are protected for those who need it the most.

Following a benefit fraud investigation, the couple first appeared in Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court in April of this year and both admitted 15 charges in relation to falsely claiming Income Support and Council Tax Benefit, because they failed to declare they were married and living together.

As a result, Dean Harrison received an eight month custodial sentence and Nicola Harrison received a five month prison sentence. Both sentences were suspended for two years.

Last month, the case returned, this time to Newport Crown Court where a confiscation order, made by the Council under the Proceeds of Crime Act, was heard to recoup the defrauded money.

The Harrisons contested the order, but the court ruled against them. Subsequent legal discussion found the pair had two reliable assets – their home and money in a bank account which has since been emptied.

A value for their home was agreed at £45,000 and a confiscation order was made by the judge for this sum of money to be paid in full to the Council within 6 months, with the likelihood that they would be forced to sell their home to pay.

The case is yet a further important example of the work taking place across Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, as well as with its partner agencies including South Wales Police and Department for Works & Pensions, to ensure those who are fraudulently claiming benefits are dealt with.

It is hoped this successful case sends a clear message to those illegally claiming benefits that efficient and effective processes are in place to deal with them and the Council has the legal powers to not only prosecute offenders, but also secure orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act to ensure they pay back what they have, essentially, stolen.

The case should also serve as a reassurance to other, vulnerable, residents that ongoing work continues to ensure public money is protected so it only goes to those who need it the most.

Nick Jones, Service Director for Operational Finance at Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said: “This outcome is the latest in a series of important and successful joint investigations carried out by the Council’s Counter Fraud Team and the Department for Work and Pensions.

“The Council hopes that this sends a strong warning to offenders that it continues to work proactively against fraudulent behaviour and will take action against those who commit benefit fraud. It also provides reassurance to the rest of the community that the Council will not tolerate benefit fraud.

“As well as working hard to target those who are claiming benefits illegally, the Council’s objective is to ensure every resident receives the level of support they are actually entitled to, particularly in these difficult financial times.

“Cases such as these highlight how the Council is protecting public funds to ensure every penny is directed to those who most need and deserve financial assistance.”