We'll crack down on hardship fund cheats
CITY council officials say they will tackle anyone trying to cheat the system as they prepare to take over the running of a £1.4m hardship fund.
Responsibility for issuing crisis loans and community care grants transfers from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to local councils from April.
Recently, more than 20 people, mainly living on the city's Preston Road estate in east Hull, appeared before magistrates to admit defrauding the DWP of thousands of pounds from the same programme.
Most involved presented altered crisis loan and grant cheques for higher payments than they were entitled to.
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The cases were brought to court in a joint operation between the DWP and Humberside Police.
Andy Sims, the city council's benefits manager, said: "We have already held discussions with the DWP about false representation.
"These are public funds and we are working very hard to make sure we target the right people who might need to access them.
"We will take the appropriate action against anyone who seeks to abuse the funds."
Mr Sims said he was hopeful most payments under the new system being run by the council would involve direct payments into peoples' bank accounts or via coded vouchers which could only be spent in certain outlets.
"The scheme will start from April 1 but it will evolve over time," he added.
The council is expecting to deal with around 12,500 applications for crisis loan and community care grants over the next 12 months.
However, the impact of other welfare reforms and benefit changes being introduced at the same time could lead to even more claims being submitted.
Typically, crisis loans are available to people facing short-term problems meeting day-to-day expenses.
Last year, nearly 8,000 crisis loan awards were issued in Hull. The average loan was £53.
Community care grants can be made to certain eligible people either moving into independent housing or looking after other family members.
Last year, 2,310 grants were awarded in the city, with an average handout of £471.
Initially, people enquiring about grants and loans will have to apply via the council's 300300 call centre system.
However, face-to-face sessions with council officials will also be provided.
Deputy leader Councillor Daren Hale admitted policing the behaviour of some people seeking grants and crisis loans at council premises was likely to be challenged.
"It's no secret Britannia House (the DWP office in Hull) can be quite a volatile place on Friday afternoons when some people go there trying to get loans to see them over the weekend," he said.
"As a result, we will not be allowing any supporting family members or friends into a customer service centre. Only the claimant will be allowed in.
"It is a concern and we need to keep a watching brief."