TASK FORCE INVESTIGATION LEADS TO CONVICTION FOR TWO DEFENDANTS ACCUSED OF FRAUD AND FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION OF A VULNERABLE ADULT

Friday 18 March

Two individuals have been prosecuted by Leeds City Council after defrauding the Direct Care Payment process, whilst supposedly acting as carers to a disabled man with care and support needs.

Samantha ROWLEY and her friend Lynne BARRATT were subject of a criminal investigation by the West Yorkshire Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team (WYFEAT), a multi-agency task force working on behalf of Leeds City Council, following concerns that the two had fraudulently claimed Direct Care payments. 

ROWLEY and BARRATT were convicted of Fraud against Leeds City Council to the value of £37,489.23. ROWLEY was further convicted of an offence of Fraud by abuse of position against her brother to the value of £98,564.07.

On 18th March 2022 the pair were sentenced at Leeds Crown Court. The sentence given was

ROWLEY was sentenced to a 40 month custodial sentence

BARRATT was sentenced to 15 month custodial sentence suspended for 2 years, 150 hours unpaid work, victim surcharge and 20 days RAR (Rehabilitation Activity Requirement)

Direct Care payments had been awarded to ROWLEY’S vulnerable brother who had complex care and support needs following a hit and run road traffic accident when he was 15 years of age. This had left ROWLEY’S brother with complex needs, non-verbal and entirely dependent upon others to make decisions about his health and finances. In fact Miss ROWLEY had also been appointed as his power of attorney in 2015 granting her the authority to manage his finances.

Mr Rowley had a team of carers that visited him at home. The carers were paid for by Leeds City Council by way of Direct Care Payments. The carers were all paid directly by Leeds CIL (Centre for Integrated Living) a company contracted to work on behalf of Leeds City Council to assist people who employ their own care staff, which includes a payroll service.

Lynne BARRATT was recorded to have worked as one of the carers for Mr Rowley and for Samantha ROWLEY’S mother before her death in 2017. Samantha ROWLEY had been responsible for creating the care staff rota and for submitting signed timesheets to CIL for payment of wages to be made, including to her friend Lynne BARRATT. 

BARRATT received wages from CIL from August 2014 to February 2019. The gross pay was £37, 489.23. Bank account evidence obtained confirmed that BARRETT received these wages into her account and would then transfer them, usually on the same day, into the bank account of Samantha ROWLEY. CIL had assumed that the timesheets, which had been signed by both ROWLEY and BARRATT were accurate, and at the time they were unaware of the friendship between them.

However in March 2019, suspicions were raised that BARRATT had not been a carer for the Rowley family and that the wage payments made to her had been fraudulently obtained. Samantha ROWLEY was initially questioned about this allegation by Mr Rowley’s Social Worker where she denied the fraud. However following further questioning at a later date, she admitted to the Social Worker that she had used Lynne BARRATT as a way of getting paid for the care she stated she provided for her brother, suggesting that she was entitled to the money. However ROWLEY had been informed previously that she was unable to receive a wage from the Direct Payment Scheme for caring for her brother due to her living in the same house as him. Not satisfied with this, ROWLEY enlisted the help of BARRATT to fraudulently assist her with claiming the wages she felt she should have received.

This deception went on for a period of over 4 years resulting in a loss to Leeds City Council of £37,489.23. These funds should have been used to employ an additional carer for ROWLEY’S mother and brother ensuring that they had the care Leeds City Council had determined they required.

ROWLEY’S brother sadly passed away during the course of the WYFEAT investigation.

The WYFEAT task force, part of West Yorkshire Trading Standards, investigate the financial exploitation and abuse of adults at risk in relation to scams, frauds and doorstep crime in West Yorkshire.  Comprising of Trading Standards Officers, Criminal and Financial Investigators, a social worker, and a Police Officer the team’s remit was expanded in 2018 to cover investigations into adult social care fraud and financial abuse on behalf of the 5 West Yorkshire Local Authorities.  

During the WYFEAT investigation, it came to light that Mr Rowley had owned a property which had been sold in 2016. Samantha ROWLEY had conducted the sale process on his behalf and had informed that Court of Protection that the reason for the sale was to adapt the family home for Mr Rowley’s benefit and to provide him with a regular income to do as he chooses. The proceeds of sale, £73,302.92, were paid into Mr Rowley’s bank account.

Analysis of Mr Rowley’s bank account by WYFEAT investigators revealed that Samantha ROWLEY had used the proceeds of sale for her own day to day living expenses including holidays, nail and beauty payments, clothes shopping and eating out.

Due to the concerns raised, a referral was made to the Office of the Public Guardian and Samantha ROWLEY’S power of attorney was revoked and a Solicitor was appointed as her replacement. Enquiries carried out by the Solicitor identified further unaccounted payments on the bank account of Mr Rowley which were deemed as not in his best interest or for his benefit. This included the proceeds of sale of Mr Rowley’s house which had been spent by his sister for her own personal gain.

In total it was determined that ROWLEY had fraudulently spent £98,564.07 of her brother’s money and the property adaptations she had claimed would happen, never did. Nor did Mr Rowley ever have a regular income from his own bank account to do as he chose.

WYFEAT interviewed ROWLEY and BARRATT about the allegations. ROWLEY admitted to the fraudulent Direct Care Payment claim but denied the remaining offences. BARRATT initially denied any wrongdoing but later accepted that she had done wrong.

On 7th January 2022 the matter came before Kirklees Magistrates Court. ROWLEY pleaded not guilty and BARRATT offered no indication as to plea. The case was transferred to Leeds Crown Court and a pre-trial preparation hearing took place on 4th February 2022. At this hearing both defendants pleaded guilty to the offences.

A timetable under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was set by the Court and a later financial hearing in this matter will be heard.

Sentencing ROWLEY and BARRATT His Honour Judge Mairs remarked

“You both ran and manufactured a scam obtaining money, week after week after week”

“It is not a victimless crime, money could have been paid for another PA, at the time of scarcity of public money – 40,000 hours of care could have been provided elsewhere”

To ROWLEY – “Clearly an incapacitated brother’s money has been spent by you.”

Councillor Fiona Venner, Leeds City Council’s executive member for adult and children’s social care and health partnerships, said: “This is a truly shocking case where a system which supports some of the most vulnerable people in our society has been cynically exploited and abused for personal gain.

 “Our adult social care staff dedicate themselves to supporting people with complex needs through a genuine desire to give vulnerable people the best lives and opportunities they possibly can.

 “At a time when those resources are stretched, every penny defrauded from the council and local taxpayers impacts services they can provide. A case like this is deeply disappointing for teams who are working so hard and in the most difficult circumstances.

 “We are pleased that those responsible have been brought to justice and I would like to pay tribute to the remarkable dedication and partnership work which has enabled this case to come to court.

 “Fortunately, cases like this are extremely rare, but it is our hope that the sentence passed down by the court today will serve as a stern warning to anyone who would seek to manipulate the system and take vital time, money and resources away from those who need it most.”

Linda Davis, Trading Standards Manager and Head of WYFEAT said:  “These two individuals sought to defraud the care system designed to support those in need of help.  They were not entitled to that money and they knew that.  ROWLEY was in a significant position of trust, and she abused that position, depriving her brother of the level of care that had been put in place. Whilst not content after financially abusing her brother, she went on to defraud the council and local taxpayers. It’s vital that money provided for the most vulnerable people is used for what it is intended.  The WYFEAT investigation on behalf of Leeds City Council clearly evidenced that was not the case and the sentencing today should serve as a warning to anyone that fraud will not be tolerated.”

 

If you have concern about someone vulnerable who you believe may be a victim of financial abuse or fraud, please report this via Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133.