Work and Income staff caught for benefit fraud

Four Work and Income employees – including a Palmerston North woman – have been dismissed for claiming benefits they were not entitled to.

Figures released to the Manawatu Standard under the Official Information Act show the four employees wrongly took a total $36,453.

One of the people dismissed is Palmerston North woman Letitia Lilly Anne Proctor, 25, who is serving an eight-month jail term for benefit fraud.

Her most recent offending began while she was on home detention for ripping off the taxpayer when she was a Work and Income case manager.

Between August, 2008, and May 27, 2010, Proctor created false identities and accessed client information for financial gain.

She defrauded the department of $17,097, money she used to clear her substantial debts.

Two other Work and Income employees have been prosecuted for benefit fraud since 2007-08.

A Wellington case manager wrongly took $11,466 and was ordered to perform community work, while an Auckland processing officer took $6890 and was sentenced to 40 hours’ community work.

Another Wellington case manager was warned by police after committing a relatively minor fraud.

The Social Development Ministry, which oversees Work and Income, would not release the names of the Auckland and Wellington employees, citing privacy reasons.

Work and Income deputy chief executive Debbie Power said the agency employs more than 3500 people and the four dismissals for benefit fraud was the equivalent of less than one fifth of 1 per cent of that.

Since 2007 Work and Income had operated an internal fraud unit that ran prevention programmes and fraud detection.

Ms Power said the Auditor-General praised the agency for its systems governing internal fraud.

The ministry’s deputy chief executive Iona Holsted was confident the right fraud detection processes were in place.

‘‘We take a zero tolerance to fraud and this is clearly outlined in the code of conduct that every staff member is required to sign and adhere to,’’ she said.

‘‘If we suspect any staff member of fraud then we investigate, and if proven, the person will be dismissed and referred to police for prosecution.

‘‘Ultimately, these people are responsible for their own actions – they’re the ones who need to explain why they’ve stolen from others.’’

Manawatu Standard