Social worker fined over housing fraud

A woman who illegally claimed benefits for nine years while owning a £500,000 property portfolio has been ordered to repay more than £110,000.

Margaret Finnigan, of Adelaide Road in Kensington, appeared before Liverpool Crown Court after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to claiming almost £40,000 in housing and council tax benefit between 1996 and 2005.

The 51-year-old had a confiscation order of £100,000 imposed under proceeds of crime legislation, and was also ordered to pay £10,879 in costs. The case was brought by Liverpool City Council after an investigation carried out by the benefit fraud team, run by Liverpool Direct, the council's joint venture with BT.

The offences came to light while she worked at the city council as a social worker during a data matching exercise designed to identify fraud. She subsequently resigned from her position.

Deputy council leader, Cllr Paul Brant, said: "This prosecution demonstrates the hard line that we will take on people who commit fraud.

"It is vital that the council sends out a strong message that people who try and cheat the system that we will not tolerate it.

"I make no apology for taking a hard line on people who steal from other residents and draw valuable resources away from frontline services such as teaching, social work, street cleansing and protecting the vulnerable.

"In these difficult times it is more important than ever that we do as much as we can to make sure we are getting the money that we are owed."

The offences related to a property on Wallgate Road in Wavertree, where her husband and child lived. She also owns a third property in West Kirby. If the money is not paid within six months she will be jailed for two years.

The case comes after the city council recently slashed by 600 the number of people fraudulently claiming the single person discount on their council tax bill, generating £150,000 in extra income. A further 3,000 cases are being reviewed.

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