Denise Robertson: Can any Tom, Dick or Ruth fool the benefits system?

For 20 years Ugandan immigrant Ruth Nabuguzi carried out a gigantic benefit fraud which netted her millions of pounds

Owen Humphreys/PA Wire Cash, money, currency
Ruth Nabuguzi carried out a gigantic benefit fraud

Among other things she created fake identities for up to 100 non-existent children to claim benefits. She has now been convicted of
stealing more than £4.1m from taxpayers.

She received £500,000 in housing benefit alone. Fraud relating to accommodation costs and sub-letting of flats by Nabuguzi cost £650,000, and benefits, including child allowances, disability benefits, and council tax, totalled £900,000.

Nabuguzi also claimed to have HIV and Aids to receive costly drugs which she then sent back to Uganda to be sold to genuine victims at a huge profit. Supplying the medicines to her, as well as four imaginary patients, cost the taxpayer more than £2m.

Now she is claiming asylum because of the disgrace she faces in Uganda and has been ordered to pay back £1.5m of the money she stole or face having her six-year jail sentence doubled.

The judge said she had rented out at least 15 properties to illegal immigrants and added: “Money was sent out to Uganda and was deployed in building complexes including flats, shops and hotels. She is the beneficial owner of a number of properties in Uganda.”

A member of her gang was said to have boasted in prison that police had found only “the tip of the iceberg”.

I’m struggling to understand how she got away with all this because I hear daily from taxpaying citizens, some of them former immigrants, who have fallen on hard times and are now struggling to get the benefits to which they are entitled.

One woman I spoke to this week is living on cereal and waiting to be evicted for non-payment of rent even though her only crime was to lose her job.

How did Ruth Nabaguzi manage to deceive so many people over such a long time? Did no one check to see if those 100 children existed? Did a doctor certify she had Aids or did she just say she had it? Is the system so inefficient that any Tom, Dick or Ruth can fool it if they’re bold and unscrupulous enough?

This week thousands face cleaning up homes ruined by the floods. Some commentators are blaming the Environment Agency who, years ago, ordered that the centuries-old practice of dredging the channels should cease.

It is said that this order was given to protect birds and small mammals. Others say the instruction actually came from the EU in a directive of 2007, adopted by the Brown government in 2008.

It was called “making space for water”. If that is true it has certainly been effective. But the ground-nesting birds have all been wiped out by the swirling waters and so have the voles, shrews and dormice. Even earthworms, so vital to agriculture, have perished.

A few weeks ago I expressed sympathy for flooded farms. Happily the farming community has rallied to help, sending feed and bedding, even housing flooded-out livestock. Contractors and supermarkets have moved stuff around the country for free and the response has been magnificent.

Help is still needed however and will be for months to come. Google nfu flooding to see how you can help. Sooner or later, though, we must find out why it happened and who, if anyone, was to blame.

Any Questions last week boasted an entirely Scottish panel, mostly telling us how wonderful it will be to shake England from their brogues at Independence.

Frankly, I’m getting sick of it. No other region, except perhaps Wales, gets a home-grown panel. One Any Questions which came from the North East had an American and a Scotsman on….they get everywhere….together with MPs from Berkshire and Leeds. What about the North East’s own MPs?

Question Time is no better. I love Scotland and the Scots, my marriage to a Scot was blissful and my son’s heritage is half-Scottish, but I’m tired of their MPs making decisions about our lives while our MPs are not allowed to make decisions about theirs.

I’m also tired of the disparity in benefits like tuition fees and prescription charges. Union should mean parity. One panellist said that since WW2 Scotland had had a government imposed upon it for which they didn’t vote.

In fact Scottish MPs have dominated British political life. Our last two prime ministers were Scottish born. So were our last two Chancellors. The sooner the vote on independence comes the better.

Any suggestion of remaining united under devo-max will see me taking to the streets.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer