Newspapers promote no-win-no-fee benefit fraudster
And so to the letters page of yesterday's Evening Telegraph, a local newpaper for Dundee:
An organisation called the Benefits Information Service quoting figures concerning allowances and receiving promotion in a local newspaper - that sounds like a government-run scheme, doesn't it? And it's not the first time the Daily Telegraph has published letters from the Benefits Information Service; here's another from earlier this year. The same letter by Suzanne Brennan also appeared in yesterday's Huddersfield Daily Examiner, which published another letter by Brennan in September last year.
Paul Brennan from the same organisation has also penned many similar letters; there's lifestyle magazine Cumbria Life in 2006, the Eskdale & Liddlesdale Advertiser in 2007, the Somerset County Gazette in 2007, Bury Free Press in November 2008. A Google search will reveal plenty of gullible publications that are happy to promote the Benefits Information Service without digging any deeper.
Trawling the net also reveals the organisation's website - benefitanswers.co.uk - which explains how the service works:
Let's say you were awarded benefit paid at £45 a week, the claim was submitted on 1st September and a decision made on 27 October. That's eight weeks money you would be owed, or £360. We ask you to pay us 40% of that £360 or £144. The £144 is not paid out of your pocket; it comes out of the money the DWP pay you. From 28 October you would be £45 a week better off; we have no interest in that, only your arrears or back pay as some people call it.
Yes you would lose some of your back pay but you would also end up better off each week. Our success rate is 85%!
Surely 60% of something and a weekly payment is better than 100% of nothing?
Offering a no-win, no-fee service certainly isn't a scam. What is a scam, however, is asking your client to lie at their upcoming benefits tribunal:
All Sandra MacKinnon wanted was for a tribunal to recognise her pain and pay her disability living allowance. But when she answered a newspaper advertisement and turned to benefits advisor Paul Brennan for help, she ended up as a victim of a scam.
Brennan, who runs Benefits Information Services Ltd, wrote a letter listing ways she could lie about her disabilities to ensure a tribunal paid up. In the signed letter he told her to tell a string of “white lies" and then “outright lies" to the panel. He also wrote “don't tell the tribunal chairman about this letter".
But how did the tribunal learn of Brennan's attempts to corrupt his client?
In what he described as a “monumental cock-up", he sent the letter destined for his client to the benefits tribunal panel in the wrong envelope.
Brennan was charged with carrying out acts designed to pervert justice. This occurred in November 2008, which may explain why all letters that have appeared in newspapers since have been signed by Suzanne Brennan, rather than Paul; Brennan's directorship of Benefit Information Services Ltd was terminated shortly after his trial. The content of the letters has remained almost identical, however, which is hardly a surprise - Bitterwallet has checked the company's returns and Brennan is listed as the current secretary and co-owner.
Ironically, the Evening Chronicle may have picked up on the story after Brennan was arrested in July 2008, but the paper ran one of his letters in October 2008 - three months his arrest and just a month before he went to court. The "newspaper advertisements" that were driving custom to Brennan were most likely the letters that went unchecked and published by the likes of the Chronicle.
Just to make it clear, then; no-win-no-fee services are not illegal, but asking your clients to lie in order receive benefits is. And there's nothing to say that Benefits Information Services Ltd have suggested clients mislead tribunals since Paul Brennan's trial, although he is still employed by the company which spends its days still carpet-bombing local newspapers, which in turn are so desperate to fill their pages they don't bother checking what they're publishing. Just so you know.
Thanks to avid Bitterwallet reader "nibbler loves paxton" for the tip-off. No, we don't know either.