Residents in County Durham are being urged to join the fight against fraud as part of Tenancy Fraud Awareness Week.
Each year, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of pounds are taken unlawfully from Durham County Council through fraud. This includes council tax and tenancy fraud, as well as false claims for direct payments for social care and support, insurance and blue badges for disabled parking.
Now the council is encouraging anyone who knows of someone committing such fraud, to report it.
Fraud steals money away from vital frontline services and fighting this crime helps us not only protect these services but ensure taxpayers' hard-earned money is not wasted. But we can’t do this alone, so we are asking anyone who is aware of it or has concerns to let us know.
“We investigate all reports we receive and will not hesitate to prosecute offenders to ensure we protect the public purse.”
Over the last three years the council has recovered or intercepted more than £3million pounds from fraudulent activity.
As well as investigating reports from the public, the council carries out regional and national data matching, as well as working closely with neighbouring local authorities, police and law enforcement agencies.
To report fraud:
Text: 07797 870 192, start your message with the word ‘fraud’
Call 03000 266 745
The group signed up to the Stop Loan Sharks charter in Peterlee on Monday, 28 January.
The charter commits the group to encourage customers to report loan sharks, increase awareness of the risks associated with using illegal money lenders, and help tenants understand legal and affordable alternatives.
The initiative from the England Illegal Money Lending Team is being supported right across County Durham.
County Durham Housing Group has joined forces with the England Illegal Money Lending Team and organisations including Durham County Council, East Durham College and NE First Credit Union to stage a week of action in the Peterlee and Shotton area.
County Durham Housing Group’s Operational Transformation Project Director, Mick Doyle, said: “Loan sharks prey on people who are desperate and cause untold misery in our communities. People need to know that there are much more affordable alternatives where people are not exploited by unscrupulous lenders. In particular, credit unions are community-based and a great way for people to save and borrow.
“I would urge anyone who is aware of loan sharks operating in our communities to report them.”
The charter signing took place as part of a week of action in Peterlee and Shotton to ‘bite back’ at loan sharks.
Hundreds of families were provided with information on avoiding or reporting loan sharks; and local volunteers were trained to help people who have fallen prey to an illegal money lender.
Common signs that a lender could be a loan shark include:
More help and support on tackling loan sharks is available at www.stoploansharks.co.uk or by calling 0300 555 2222 safely and anonymously.
Residents are being warned not to turn to predatory loan sharks to solve Christmas money worries. The Stop Loan Sharks project has launched a national campaign to raise awareness of the risks posed by illegal money lenders and provide guidance on where help can be found.
Loan sharks do not operate under official financial regulations and can cause extreme misery to those who choose to use them. Any person lending money should have a consumer credit licence from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Licensed lenders have to comply with legal obligations in dealing with consumers, including the use of official paperwork and fair collection methods. Loan sharks operate illegally without the correct permissions from the FCA. These criminals often take benefit or bank cards as security and resort to intimidation and violence if victims default.
Loan sharks can charge interest rates running to thousands of per cent, making it impossible for borrowers to repay the loan. Tips to protecting yourself against Loan Sharks this Christmas:
•Save money regularly, so you are not in urgent need of a loan
•Do not accept cash loans, even if the lender seems friendly or helpful
•Search the FCA Financial Services register to check the lender is legal https://register.fca.org.uk/ If you need to borrow money, credit unions are a safer alternative than borrowing from a loan shark. Visit www.findyourcreditunion.co.uk to find your nearest credit union. If you have been the victim of a loan shark, you can contact the Illegal Money Lending Team in confidence on 0300 555 2222 or stoploansharks.co.uk. Their lines are open around the clock throughout the festive season.
Tailor-made training courses for social tenants are coming after one of the region’s largest housing associations picked up nationally recognised accreditation.
A new series of courses aimed at helping tenants improve their CV, pick up key skills or get back into work is to be launched by County Durham Housing Group. The group has achieved accredited centre status by NCFE, which allows it to design and run courses specifically to meet the needs of tenants.
County Durham Housing Group is one of the first housing associations in the north east to become an officially accredited training provider.
The group’s Community Training Coordinator, Sean Robson, said: “This accreditation gives us the freedom to provide really targeted and tailored training. We’ll be able to offer courses that will provide the vital stepping stones towards the careers that our tenants want.
“Even just within County Durham the work opportunities in Seaham or Peterlee are very different from Stanhope or Crook. Now we’ll be able to help tenants gain accredited qualifications that will help them venture into employment in their area. And we’ll be able to deliver all of these courses in the communities where they are needed.”
The first accredited courses are set to include Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications in Health and Safety, CV Writing and Employability Skills. Courses are set to start from January 2019 in a variety of locations across the county.
Alongside the courses, County Durham Housing Group’s Employability Team also offer support with job searching, dealing with barriers to work and interview techniques.
More information on courses is available from Sean Robson at County Durham Housing Group on 0300 1311 999 or email@example.com.
A £138m home improvement programme by one of the region’s largest housing associations has transformed 24 bungalows in Croxdale.
The homes, in Windsor Court, have all received major improvements including new kitchens, bathrooms and rewiring as part of a major investment by County Durham Housing Group. Some homes have even had changes to their internal layout such as removing outdated pantries or creating wet rooms.
Work on the final few bungalows in Croxdale is now approaching completion, with external footpaths also being resurfaced in the area.
County Durham Housing Group’s 10-year improvement project will make homes cheaper to run and ensure high-quality affordable housing provision in scores of communities stretching from rural Weardale to the coast.
Windsor Court resident Betty Brodie said: “The old kitchen was quite cramped, but this is brilliant. I’ve got more cupboard space and work surface. I’m over the moon, I love it. I can’t thank the workmen enough. I’m really looking forward to baking tomorrow now.”
Neighbour, Sandra Galloway, said: “When I had the knock on the door about the work I was going through a bit of a bad time, but everyone was so helpful. I can’t fault anyone who’s been involved.
“I love the kitchen and the wet room. It feels like a new start. Finishing off the decorating has given me a sense of purpose again.”
County Durham Housing Group Investment Programme Manager, Kim Tillotson, said: “The improvements we’ve been carrying out to these homes in Croxdale have been pretty major. But throughout the whole programme we’ve been keeping in close contact with tenants and doing all we can to minimise disruption.
“It’s hugely satisfying when we hear how happy our tenants are with the completed work. Hopefully they’ll be enjoying their made-over home for years to come.”
Work has already been completed on homes in Bearpark, Brandon, Ushaw Moor and Willington. The refurbishments are being carried out in partnership with specialist contractors ENGIE.
ENGIE was awarded the £138m contract by County Durham Housing Group following a competitive bidding process based on value for money and quality. The company, formerly known as Keepmoat Regeneration, has a long and successful track record of working in the area and extensive experience of delivering major projects, while minimising disturbance to residents.