Oldham social worker in £4k taxi fiddle
A SOCIAL worker has been suspended for two years after fraudulently claiming more than £4,000 in travel expenses while working for Oldham council.
Michael Wrenn, 62, filled in blank taxi receipts while he was a case manager in the youth offending service.
But for nearly two years, Wrenn was driven to work by a friend and was paying nothing for his travel, the General Social Care Council (GSCC) heard.
He submitted claims for £4,365 to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as part of their Access to Work scheme between December 2004 and October 2006.
Peter Steel, for the GSCC, said: ‘Mr Wrenn is entitled under the Access to Work scheme to claim a financial contribution to the cost of travel to and from work.
“An overpayment of these claims was made to Mr Wrenn for exaggerating taxi journeys paid and claiming for taxis when he had travelled to work in a friend’s car.
The GSCC heard that a taxi firm had supplied Wrenn with blank receipts.
Mr Steel added: “When challenged by the DWP, Mr Wrenn made a voluntary admission that he had exaggerated his claims.
“Mr Wrenn’s defence was that he was entitled to claim for a return journey home from work and had made no such claim.”
He then claimed he paid a friend for a lift to work, it was said.
In June last year, Wrenn admitted 16 charges of false accounting at Chester Crown Court and asked for a further 10 charges to lie on file. He was given a two-year conditional discharge.
Judge Elgan Edwards told him: “This is a sad and unusual case and whilst public funds have to be safeguarded, it seems to me that there are many good features about your life and you are entitled to call on these at the hour of your need.’
Wrenn was sacked from Oldham council, Mr Steel told the hearing.
Mr Wrenn said: “There is no indication that this was intended to a large-scale fraud, although it went on for some time and clearly the circumstances of the conviction are such that it would not have stopped until the DWP made inquiries.”
The GSCC decided to suspend Wrenn, from Cheshire, for a maximum of two years after finding him guilty of misconduct.
He did not turn up at the central London hearing and had told the GSCC to reach a decision in his absence.
Chairman David King said: “The committee considered that the social worker’s dishonesty was especially serious because it undermined trust in social care services.
“This is particularly evidenced in the context of the social worker’s role working with the Youth Offending Service, where his responsibility was to uphold the highest standards of honesty and trustworthiness.
“The committee also took account of the considerable period of time during which the registrant committed these offences. The committee took into account that the conviction was not a direct theft from a service user, nor was there any deliberate targeting of vulnerable individuals.”
Wrenn had narrowly escaped being kicked out of the profession, Mr King declared.
He added: “A criminal conviction for offences of dishonesty of this nature could warrant removal from the register.
“However, the committee considered the issues of mitigation and proportionality and therefore concluded that a suspension order was the appropriate sanction and was necessary in the public interest and to protect the public.”