A MAN who said he was housebound in order to receive employment support allowance was actually being paid to assist more than 350 other people with their own benefit claims, a court heard.
Mohammed Khalil, 59, even drove some of his ‘customers’ to cash points himself to ensure he received his cut of their money.
Prosecutor Robert Stevenson told Bradford Crown Court that Khalil had dishonestly claimed £34,488 in employment support over a period of four years and three months.
His payments were stopped in April last year, but an investigation by HMRC found he had actually been fit to work since January 2013.
On his claim form, Khalil had stated that he was unfit to perform any work and had no form of income.
But Mr Stevenson told the court that while claiming his benefits, the defendant had been working as an “intermediary” for foreign nationals to help them make claims for tax credits and child benefits.
He made phonecalls and wrote letters to HMRC on their behalf, and was found to have assisted more than 350 claimants, mainly from Slovakia.
In one case, a woman paid Khalil a total of £1,800, with him driving her to the bank to complete the transaction.
He told another client that they needed to pay him 25 per cent of their benefits in exchange for his help, again driving them to a cash point to collect his fee.
In May 2014, one of Khalil’s customers reported him to HMRC, complaining that he was “demanding money of him.”
After Khalil’s movements, which included him visiting various clients’ homes and driving them around, were tracked by a surveillance operation, he was arrested in April 2017.
He pleaded guilty to fraud ahead of a trial set to take place yesterday.
Jeremy Barton, mitigating, said Khalil’s basis of plea was that while his initial claim had been legitimate, he conceded that at times between 2013 and 2017 he had been fit to work.
Mr Barton said: “His health would go up, it would go down”, adding that there was a “plethora of evidence” to prove Khalil’s “numerous health issues.”
The court heard that Khalil, of Round Street, Bradford, had initially made the claim in 2000 after getting his arm trapped in a machine in an industrial engineering accident.
Mr Barton said that in his most recent assessment by the DWP, Khalil had actually been deemed unfit to work, telling the court he suffered from conditions including COPD, diabetes, kidney problems, and restricted mobility.
He argued that a sentence of immediate custody would cause “disproportionate harm” due to Khalil’s health issues.
The Recorder of Bradford, Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC, told Khalil that the case against him was “based on the anxieties of those you were allegedly assisting.”
He said: “You were charging them not on the basis of helping friends and family, but on a solid commercial basis. You were to some extent, exploiting vulnerability.
“On the one hand you were arguing that you were unable to get out of your house, which would have been a surprise to your clients as you were driving them to the bank.
“There is a deeply worrying streak of sustained resolve in your dishonesty.”
Despite labelling him an “extremely cunning and somewhat sophisticated fraudster”, Judge Durham Hall said Khalil’s “ailments were highly relevant” to his sentencing.
He suspended a 12-month jail term for a year, and imposed a six-month curfew. A Proceeds of Crime Act hearing to reclaim the money will take place in July.