HARD-WORKING residents in Hampshire have declared war on the benefit cheats who are costing us a staggering £1.5m per year.

As law-abiding citizens tighten their belts amid the economic downturn, daily calls are now being made to special hotlines to report on those illegally claiming benefits.

Today the Daily Echo can exclusively reveal the alarming scale of a multi-million pound benefit swindle with vast sums involved which could have been spent on vital services such as elderly care, libraries and keeping down council tax.

A total of £1,489,620 was fraudulently gained in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit alone.

And that’s before Hampshire’s share of a massive £1 billion national fraud is taken into account, which involves benefits such as Income Support, Incapacity Benefit, Jobseekers Allowance and Disability Living Allowance.

The three cases featured here today netted a total of £53,733.91 – but we can reveal their fraud is just the tip of a growing iceberg.

Our research has uncovered the following sums conned annually:

• £344,199 from Southampton City Council

• £184,000 from Eastleigh Borough Council

• £244,061.90 from New Forest District Council

• £109,145.62 from Fareham Borough Council

• £49,294.04 from Winchester City Council

• £64,227 from Test Valley Borough Council

• £494,692.92 from Isle of Wight Council The councils are forced to claw the money back over a number of years in some cases.

And Councillor Royston Smith, leader of Southampton City Council, said the vast sums paid out to cheats could have been used for key services.

He said: “There are lots of things we could spend the money on like children in care and vulnerable adults as well as older people’s care and services.

“You could also use it for keeping council tax down for the rest of us.

He added: “Everyone would rather we find the people nicking cash from the state than close libraries.”

Martin Mortimer, New Forest District Council investigations officer, said “In the last year, with the economic downturn and more people struggling to make ends meet, there has been an increase in referrals.

“I think people feel ‘I’ve let that go before, but why should they get away with it?’”

Investigators also share information with other local authorities and partner organisations to determine if the benefits are overpaid or should not be paid.

Mr Mortimer added: “We deal with referrals on the phone hotline or anonymously on the NFDC website.

“People ring up and tell us about people who they believe are committing fraud.

“This can be because people have a moral outlook or because they are trying to make ends meet while they believe someone is claiming benefits they are not entitled to.”

The Landlord

A WELL-KNOWN landlord has been convicted of cheating taxpayers out of £32,000.

Naizali Mohmed carried on receiving housing benefits into his bank account for two tenants even though they had moved out years ago.

The 41-year-old was rumbled after council fraud investigators carried out spot checks in December 2008 at two of his properties in Lodge Road, in Bevios Mount.

They later found one of the claiming tenants had not been living there since 2005 and another 2006, but the landlord was renting out both properties to new tenants.

Mohmed, of Spear Road, Portswood, pleaded guilty at Southampton Magistrates Court to two charges of failing to notify the city council of the changes of circumstances.

No mitigation was offered during the hearing and he will appear again at Southampton Crown Court in February for sentencing.

A proceeds of crime investigation will be carried out in a bid to recover the £32,000 and the prosecution costs.

The benefit fraud was last night condemned by city council leader Cllr Royston Smith.

He said: “Today’s outcome demonstrates that Southampton City Council does not tolerate benefit fraud and those involved will be tracked down and prosecuted.

Former pub boss

A FORMER pub landlord must undertake community service for working while claiming more than £11,000 in benefits.

Jacqueline Bridgette Bodley was receiving four different benefits when she failed to notify the authorities of two cleaning jobs and when she became the licencee at the Bittern Pub in Southampton.

The 49-year-old, from Tedder Way, Totton, pleaded guilty at Southampton Magistrates’ Court to four charges of failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions and New Forest District Council of a change in circumstances with the resultant overpayment of benefits of £11,225.36.

The income support charge was dated from January 30, 2009 to November 4, 2010.

The housing benefit and council tax benefit charges were dated from April 5, 2010 to November 4, 2010 and a carers allowance charge was between April 12, 2010 and June 19, 2011.

David Adams, prosecuting for the Department for Work and Pensions, said Bodley has repaid £1,300 so far with £9,925.36 left outstanding and said she is now working part–time as a collection agent for an insurance company.

A probation officer told the court she cares for her mother but a community service sentence could be managed.

Bodley was sentenced to 250 hours of unpaid work and was ordered to pay £50 costs.

The public servant

A WOMAN from Bursledon accepted more than £10,000 in benefits she was not entitled to after starting a new job and receiving a pension.

Lesley Elizabeth Parkes pleaded guilty at Southampton Magistrates’ Court to five charges of benefit fraud on dates ranging from January 2009 to February 2011 with overpayments totalling £10,508.55.

She failed to notify the Department for Work and Pensions and Eastleigh Borough Council of changes in circumstances which would have affected her income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit with two charges relating to incapacity benefit.

David Adams, prosecuting for the Department for Work and Pensions, said the 53-year-old, of Woodlands Way, was claiming legally until she started work as a project manager and then as a mental health worker.

He said that in June 2010 she started receiving a civil service pension which also affected her claim.

Mr Adams said she is paying back £10.20 per week.

Magistrates sentenced Parkes to a 12-month community order with a supervision order whereby she must attend appointments with the probation service and attend a Pathway to Change course for up to 12 days.

Parkes was ordered to pay £50 costs.