Thirteen people have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud following a police investigation into allegations that hundreds of Bangladeshis flew into Britain for just one day in order to fraudulently claim British benefits.
The migrants, who gained EU citizen status in Italy, all had pre-booked Jobcentre appointments to register for a national insurance number which was then used on false wage slips, allowing them to claim on average £9,000 each. In total, the fraud operation, believed to be one of the largest on record, has cost British taxpayers millions.
Five organisations, including a charity and a recruitment agency, are suspected of helping out the fraudsters by providing fake job details. Two company directors are amongst those arrested.
So far only one of the thirteen arrested has been named: Asma Khanam, 46, of Newbury Park, east London was a trustee of Families for Survival UK, which claims to run projects in Bangladesh and Kenya, as well as helping disabled and elderly people in the UK. Their offices in Ilford have been searched, and documents and computers seized.
Suspicions were raised last year when Essex police noted a significant number of Bangladeshi-born migrants with Italian passports arriving at Stansted, with return flights booked for the same day. They are understood to have been carrying letters confirming Jobcentre appointments.
The Department of Work and Pensions also grew suspicious when up to 400 applications for national insurance numbers were all received from the same address in Bow, east London. They worked alongside Redbridge Council in east London and the Metropolitan Police’s financial investigation unit to probe the suspected fraud. Newham and Tower Hamlets are amongst other councils now investigating whether they too have been defrauded.
Councillor Kam Rai, Redbridge Council’s cabinet member for finance and resources, told the Daily Mail: “This fraud was detected late last year. Since then our own benefit fraud team has been painstakingly investigating to collect the evidence and this success is a direct result of their very hard work.
‘When people commit fraud against the council, they steal from you, your friends, family and the community. Fraud takes money away from vital services and impacts on us all.’
A council spokesman has admitted that the council expects to save thousands of pounds a week in housing benefit payments thanks to the investigation.
The Bow address was that of a small flat, situated above an Italian restaurant on the Mile End Road. A worker at a nearby logistics firm who declined to be named told the Times that people had been using the flat for at least three years, sometimes in such numbers that they were spilling out onto the road.
“The people couldn’t all fit in the flat so they would have to gather outside. At the time we thought they might have opened a job or recruitment centre there It was mainly people of 20 years old and upwards to about 50, people from different backgrounds. There were Asians and whites.
“One obstacle for us is all of the people gathering outside of our door and making it uncomfortable for our customers. We were always wondering what they were doing until we read the newspapers and saw the police come around.”
A spokesman for the DWP said:
“Our fraud investigators have powers to track benefit cheats around the world and bring them before the courts.
“We are determined to crack down on people who abuse the system, so that benefits only go to those who really need this help.
“In addition to any sentence imposed by the courts, fraudsters must pay back all the money they falsely obtained and face a criminal record for life.”