31/08/2011

4NI Wins Fraudsters' Identity Battle

Those found guilty of benefit fraud are now being routinely named - and shamed - on the Department for Social Development's (DSD) website.

An effective U-turn by DSD follows a campaign by the news website, 4NI.co.uk, that encompassed two successive Executive Ministers.

The rules have now changed after the DUP Minister Nelson McCausland looked again at his Department's standing policy not to divulge the names and addresses of those found to have defrauded Social Services.

Until a few days ago, DSD's public relations section only distributed details of the guilty to local newspapers and others who have asked for the information - but featured only generalities such as 'a Belfast woman was found guilty of fraud….' on the website, without identifying them by name.

Now, after direct contact with the DUP Executive Minister, the Department's policy on naming those who have been found guilty of benefit fraud has changed.

A spokesperson for DSD said: "Publishing the names of those convicted of benefit fraud has been raised a number of times.

"Minister McCausland asked for background information and after reviewing this, agreed that names should be published on the Departmental website for one month [and then routinely removed].

"This is intended to act as a deterrent to others and help reduce benefit fraud," the spokesperson said.

The contentious policy was first highlighted in February when 4NI.co.uk was told by officials that the previous Social Services Minister, the SDLP's Alex Attwood, was to "consider this matter further" - and nothing happened.

Now, the bizarre rule that prevented DSD from naming those guilty of defrauding the same department - has changed.
News Image
The full details are now being published both to local and regional media AND on the official website news feature.

Among the latest to be prosecuted - but now named on the official website for the first time - are two people convicted at Londonderry Magistrates' Court for claiming benefits they were not entitled to.

Danielle McLaughlin, 28, of Good Shepherd Glen, Londonderry was given 100 hours community service and ordered to pay court costs of £30 for failing to declare employment while claiming Job Seekers Allowance totalling £2,017.

Nora McDonagh, 40, of Carnhill, Londonderry was given four months imprisonment suspended for three years and ordered to pay court costs of £37 for failing to declare capital while claiming Income Support totalling £12,333.

Previously, a DSD statement had admitted: "The personal details of individuals convicted of benefit fraud are not put on the website, [but] details are issued to the local media by way of press releases."

That has now changed with Flagship Media Group Editor, Brian McCalden commenting: "The discovery that DSD failed to name those guilty of defrauding them - on their own website - seemed to fly in the face of reason.

"The matter was first raised in February with a promise that the Minister - then Alex Attwood - would re-examine the matter, but nothing happened, but it has taken the new DSD Minister, Nelson McCausland just a few weeks to act once he was made aware of the bizarre anomaly.

"Just last week, the DSD website changed tack and has begun to name - and shame - the guilty. "Justice, it seems has been done," said the senior journalist."

See: Convicted Benefit Fraudsters 'Still Unnamed'

(BMcC)

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