Friday, 21 August 2015

Single Mother watch (Notes to self)

21 August 2015

NB: I plan to keep this post updated on the weird and wonderful single mothers (and fathers) I encounter.


This was published recently: “But I am a single mum!” .

Back at the ranch (the advice charity where I was a volunteer, went on the payroll, made redundant from lack of funding, and now back as volunteer) I was faced with the following two cases. I know a little less about the third case.

Case One
Client's daughter came to see me at advice triage session. Client was claiming loads of benefit as a single mother of four or five children from 2005. The daughter who is in her 20s was the one who came on her behalf. She presented me with a stack of papers about 4.5cm thick.

By the third page it has become clear to me that the case was about Client claiming to be a single mother when in fact she continued to have a relationship with her husband.

How do we know? Client went on to have a new baby after being given her benefits and the baby was registered with the same surname as her other children. They also found evidence that the father had a bank account AND business registered to the same address.

Client and her daughter still insisted that Client was indeed a single parent. They are appealing against the demand for overpayment of benefits that have been claimed fraudulently. I can't wait to find out what the outcome of their tribunal hearing might be. And then, would they be prosecuted in court for benefit fraud?

If I were the Client I will quietly work out a payment arrangement. Sometimes it takes them (theoretically) 93 years to pay off these debts.

Meanwhile the father has now (conveniently?) moved back in with the family and all the benefits are in order.

Case Two
Client attended with her brother because her English was not so good. Client was already given her maximum £26,000 benefit (£500 a week) for herself and four children. She also, ostensibly, also cares for an elderly mother.

Client then took on work as a cleaner for a company for 16 hours a week: six hours on Saturday, and two hours a day Monday to Friday. Her application for Housing Benefit was initially approved, but given the evidence that the company that Client worked for had actually stopped trading during the period of her claim, it was decided that she had worked illegally, and that the 'work' was a ruse to claim additional working tax credit to avoid her benefit cap of £26,000. There is now a demand for £15,000 of overpayment of Housing Benefit and rent arrears.

I was observing her adviser who said she believed her story. We have to, just as lawyers must always believe what the clients tell us. The company had not ceased trading as the authorities said. But there were a number of little details I found astonishing.

(1) She was getting £6.19 an hour. Transport costs to and from work would have cost £2.80. (Maybe she drives. We did not ask.) Would anyone already drawing £26,000 a year actually spend two hours on the bus to work two hours in order to earn £9.50, Mondays to Fridays? Her weekly income from this job was £99.

(2) During these working hours, she had to send two or three children to childcare. This cost, however, was picked up by the taxpayer on the basis that she was getting Working Tax Credit.

(3) Why did she choose to work during the hours her children needed childcare and not when the children were in school?

(4) She already gets "Carers Allowance" for looking after her mother and should be looking after her mother. When the mother suffered a fall. Client left her job suddenly. It shows that she was not fussed one way or another whether she worked.

(5) If the taxpayer were to pick up the cost of childcare and then pay her quite a substantial amount of Working Tax Credit, then Client had nothing to lose. There were no opportunity costs as far as she was concerned, unlike those of us who are not on benefits.

Watch this space.

Case Three
I was manning reception because our volunteer receptionists were not there. There was a client that I knew could not be handled by the triage volunteers so I asked a supervisor to look into it.

Single mother with several children at least one of whom is autistic gets every single benefit you can name, as she rattled it off: Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support, Carers Allowance. Her children get Disability Living Allowance, etc. etc. She showed me a bill of unpaid rent because the council was not giving her Housing Benefit. The landlord is threatening eviction.

It sounded to me -- but I might be wrong -- that Housing Benefit was withheld because she had exceeded her benefit cap threshold. I said, "Madam, just because you don't get HB, it does not mean that you cannot take money from the disability benefits, CTC, etc, to pay at least some rent."

She gave me a strange look.

I mean, £26,000 for not working is not bad money, is it? (I thought.)

Supervisor saw her and I later learned that she was going to make an appointment for Client to see an adviser at one of our other 'outposts', designed for clients with children under five or pregnant. I said to supervisor, "But she does not have children under five!"

Supervisor, "Yes. But she says she is pregnant."

There you go again. Single mother -- from a religious group where they stone women for adultery -- having another baby.

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