Wednesday 29 August 2012

Indian ghost students causing UK millions in tax losses


LONDON: Indian ghost students coming to Britain after getting “admission” at fake colleges are causing the British government millions of pounds in tax losses each year.

An Indian racket is causing these losses by selling fake college documents. The documents obtained by the Daily Times are signed letters from two colleges, each falsely stating that a person was enrolled as a student and therefore could be exempt from paying council tax. If the fake student was living with another person, the note could entitle the liable individual to a discount of 25% on his council tax bill.

The false letters were given to the Daily Times by an Indian fraudster, Kiran Kumar, of the UK Study Link, a company in east London that helps to arrange college and university courses across Britain for overseas students. As he detailed his £350 charge for providing a letter, Kumar said, “Everyone is doing it all over the country. You save so much money thanks to the letter. I’ve arranged loads for people and everyone is happy.”

In reality, it is only the fraudsters who are pleased. According to the Britain’s National Fraud Authority, council tax fraud costs local authorities an estimated £131 million each year, of which £92 million is undetected single person discount fraud. A report last year by the British Audit Commission said there was a “potentially significant risk of fraudulent claims for student discount” and warned “it could represent a financial loss similar in scale to single person discount fraud”.

Daily Times undercover reporter, alerted to the activities of Kumar, visited his office in East Ham, east London. There, Kumar explained to the reporter how he could obtain a letter. “Just imagine how much council tax you [could] save in three years,” he said, adding, “And then after that you can get another letter to say you are now on a different course.”

Kumar counted out a £200 deposit and said the first document would be available for collection within days. When the reporters returned, he demanded the remaining £150 fee, saying, “The college man is taking a big risk, I’m just getting £50 out of this.” The document he provided was a letter headed “Kingston College of IT and Management” with an address in Rainham, northeast London. The college’s website says it offers a variety of courses in subjects including business management and IT.

The letter, titled “Exemption to Council Tax”, provided a student registration number and falsely claimed the “student” was enrolled on a one-year course for an advanced diploma in management. It was signed and bore the college’s stamp. Council tax in Hayes, in the London borough of Hillingdon, where the reporter claimed to live, ranges from £948.50 to £2,845.50 a year, depending on the property band.

The second document delivered by him was a letter headed “Shepherd Business School” with an address in northwest London. It falsely stated the “student” was enrolled on an 18-month postgraduate course in tourism and management. Council tax in Newham, east London, where the reporter said he lived, ranges from £834.90 to £2,504.70 a year.

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