A council was forced to drop a £50,000 benefit fraud investigation after it emerged that claims attributed to a ‘key whistleblower’were actually from a local newspaper article.
Basildon Council eventually had to admit that information on which it based its case against a 47-year-old disabled mother came from a story in the Basildon Echo and not from an anonymous phone call.
The Information Commissioner ruled the council must change their records – resulting in the five-year investigation being shelved.
The investigation, jointly run by the council and the Department for Work and Pensions, accused the woman of wrongly claiming almost £55,000 in benefits in the form of income support, housing and council tax benefits as a single mother-of-two, while still living on her husband’s land
The pair said they had separated in 2000 and lived independently.
Staff at the council launched an investigation into their living arrangements after reading a story about a planning application on her husband’s land in the Echo – but told the Department for Work and Pensions they had received an anonymous phone call on the subject.
Lorraine Browne, solicitor to the council, said: ”We were presented with evidence, in the form of an Echo newspaper article which prompted us to carry out an investigation. We are absolutely satisfied that on the evidence of that newspaper article a fraud investigation was fully justified.
‘Where we made a mistake was to describe the evidence as an anonymous phone call. This was an error and it is regrettable but we have since taken stringent steps to ensure that something similar does not happen again.’