A council has paid out nearly £300,000 to fraudulent benefit claimants in nine months, which prompted a councillor to say the only way to avoid this in the future is to abolish benefits.

A report produced by Hertsmere Borough Council’s Anti-Fraud Unit revealed that from the beginning of the financial year until the end of November, the council overpaid £278,761.

The report was put before the council’s audit committee on Monday night at the council offices in Borehamwood.

Between April and August 31 last year the council investigated 137 claims, identifying 100 of them as an overpayment.

Eight people were taken to court between September and the end of November last year, with seven successfully prosecuted. They also issued 19 cautions.

One of the prosecutions was a man who received a 32 week suspended sentence for failing to declare a change of circumstances, a change in his income, and his wife’s work leading to him being overpaid approximately £10,000 in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

Another man was sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work after failing to tell the council he had left his address, resulting in him receiving almost £7,000 of benefits to which he was not entitled.

The chairman of the audit committee Councillor Paul Hodgson- Jones said: "The sad truth is that there will always be greedy people who try to gain money under false pretences.

"Benefit fraud is not a victimless crime - it is theft, and it is our residents from whom they are stealing. The selfish actions of a few criminals represent a burden borne by every family in the borough.

"The only way to eliminate benefit fraud altogether is by abolishing benefits. Meanwhile, we in Hertsmere will do our best to identify and punish such criminal activity.

Finance and Property Portfolio Holder Councillor John Graham said: "It is disappointing to see the level of fraud being committed but pleasing, from the council’s perspective, to see the success we are having in finding the frauds."

The council currently has 96 allocated or active fraud cases, and a further 190 cases that are pending potential allocation.