Tuesday, December 21, 2010

BBC radio presenter exposed as £18,000 benefits cheat avoids jail

A BBC radio presenter who was exposed as an £18,000 benefit cheat has avoided jail.

BBC Asian Network presenter Lubna Qazi, aka DJ Kanwal, wrongly claimed Carer’s Allowance for her sick husband without declaring her job at the corporation.

The 53-year-old presenter, from Kings Heath, Birmingham, told Department for Work and Pensions bosses in 2003 she was caring for her husband, who spent 35 hours a week in bed after suffering a stroke.

But she falsely claimed state handouts for seven years by working just nine hours a week for the BBC, earning £24.47 per hour.

In total she swindled £18,014 in benefits by not declaring her job as presenter of two weekend Bollywood music shows on the BBC’s Asian Network radio station.

The presenter earned nearly £25 per hour working for the corporation for nine hours at weekends, exceeding the upper limit of £95 a week for the allowance.

Birmingham Crown Court heard today Qazi was overpaid £18,014 between March 2003 and January 2010 as a result of the fiddle.

But Recorder Collingwood Thompson QC described it as an ‘exceptional’ case and sentenced her to a 12-month conditional discharge.

He said: 'I have to sentence you on the basis you knew you were not entitled to the benefits.
'But this is an exceptional case.

'The unusual circumstances of this case concern your personal circumstances and the care of your husband.

'It is clear he suffered a massive stroke in 2002 which left him about 75 per cent brain damaged, paralysed and unable to speak, and you have nursed him with devotion since 2002.

'It seems to me that but for your care and attention your husband would be in care along time ago.

'For these reasons I am going to take exceptional course and am going to conditionally discharge you for 12 months.'

The court was told Qazi told the Department of Work and Pensions her last employment was with Tesco, and she was required to notify the DWP of any change in circumstance.

But she failed to do so because she thought her entitlement would not be affected because she worked under 16 hours a week.

At the BBC she worked for the Asian Network on a Bollywood music show called Retro Selection.
Her programme offered ‘timeless classics from the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s’, while Qazi herself was described as a ‘tireless worker who gave up everything to become a DJ’.

Simon Drew, defending, described Qazi’s personal circumstances as ‘tragic’.

A letter read to the court by Recorder Thompson, written by a friend of Qazi, told how she slept on the floor of her husband’s room so she ‘could tend to his every need’.

Mr Drew said: 'Her husband was taken very seriously ill a number of years ago.

'She is his sole carer and the care she has provided him with is very substantial indeed.

'She is someone who could not be providing a greater community service than she already is in the way that she cares for her husband.'

Qazi has since resigned from her job at the BBC.

The corporation initially said it did not want to accept her resignation, but following her guilty plea at Birmingham Magistrates Court last month, the BBC said it felt it had no choice but to accept it.

Mr Drew added: 'So far as working for the BBC Asian Network, that has in fact for her been a lifesaver, because it is an opportunity for her to get out of the house away from what is otherwise an extremely intense environment.

'She has had to give up the one interest that kept her going and the punishment is significant already.

'She will now dedicate the rest of her life to caring for her husband.

'Ironically she is now claiming Carer’s Allowance because she does not have any income.'

Emma Boon, spokesperson for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said Qazi’s case highlights the need for reform of the benefits system.

She said: 'Qazi wrongly claimed taxpayers’ money and she should pay back every penny.

'But this case also highlights the need for our benefits system to be reformed. Those who choose to work, rather than live off handouts should not be punished by losing all of their benefits too quickly.

'The system for benefits also needs to be simpler, so that those who claim benefits whilst working are not confused about what they are entitled to.'

Qazi was also ordered to pay back the money she had falsely claimed.

Qazi has paid back £600, leaving £17,414 outstanding.

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