1 June 2011

Benefits and Work readers are warned to beware of a nationally advertised benefits checking service which could charge you thousands of pounds – possibly without getting you a penny extra in benefits.  The service, which hides its own identity and the identity of those associated with it, has close connections with a claims management company which went bankrupt last year owing around £100,000.

If you put disability living allowance, incapacity benefit, pension credit or a range of other benefits related keywords into Google you’re likely to see the following advert:

Claim Disability Benefit - What Extra Benefits Are You Owed?
Take Our Free 1 Minute Check Now.

Click on the link and you’ll be taken to the MyBenefitsChecker website. There is, however, no sign of the mysterious 1 minute check.  Instead, there is an 0845 number to ring or, alternatively, visitors can fill in a contact form in order to be called back by an ‘assessor’ who will carry out a free ‘Benefits Health Check’.

Only visitors who click on the very small ‘Terms’ link at the bottom of the page will discover that the price that you might have to pay for your benefits health check could leave you feeling very sick indeed.

The truth is that MyBenefitsChecker charges a staggering 50% of the total of any arrears of benefits you receive as a result of their help. In relation to an initial claim and appeal for disability living allowance this could run into thousands of pounds.

Perhaps more worryingly still, the small print states that if MyBenefitsChecker recommends that you make a claim or appeal and you fail to do so without good cause, they can treat that claim or appeal as having been successful and charge you accordingly.  In the same way, if you fail to attend a medical or turn up for an appeal hearing without good cause you will be treated as having been successful and potentially owe My Benefits Checker thousands of pounds.

MyBenefitsChecker also insist that you must give them exclusive right to act and negotiate  on your behalf.  Not only that, but you are not permitted to “contact or discuss your claim with the DWP, the Tribunals Service or any other body connected with your claim or appeal by telephone or in writing without contacting us first.”

The small print also makes it clear that that it is your responsibility to recover any money owed to you by the DWP.  Nonetheless, you are required to pay MyBenefitsChecker’s invoice within 7 days of it being sent out or have a hefty £75 added to your bill.

Benefits and Work set out to discover who was behind this new and, some would consider, rapacious service.

MyBenefitsChecker is run from Aire Valley Business Centre in Keighley.  There are no company or staff names on the website, only an address and telephone number.

However, the domain name was registered in February 2011, with the registrant listed as Unfair Credit Direct.

Unfair Credit Direct was the trading name of a company called Individual Credit Solutions Ltd which was also based at the Aire Valley Business Centre in Keighley. 

Unfair Credit Direct was set up by a ‘housewife’ a builder and an electrician to help people avoid paying debts on mis-sold credit cards and mortgages. 

In May 2010 the Adverstising Standards Authority (ASA) banned an advert by Unfair Credit Direct which claimed that “through brand new legislation 70% of credit agreements may be unenforceable."  ASA found that this claim could not be proved and was misleading. The company was ordered not to use it in the future.

Less than six months later Unfair Credit Direct went bankrupt, reportedly owing around £100,000 in taxes it had collected from staff and failed to pass on.  It did, however, pass on its fee paying customers to a new business: Credit Compensation GB, run by the same builder, electrician and housewife.

We contacted MyBenefitsChecker and were called back by Joel Grainger.

Joel Grainger was formerly a sales advisor at Unfair Credit Direct and before that worked for Money Tailor, a debt management company which charges people with large debts considerable fees for services provided free by advice agencies.

We asked Grainger if anybody from Unfair Credit Direct was involved with MyBenefitsChecker.  He told us they were not.  When we pointed out that he himself had worked for Unfair Credit Direct he admitted that this was the case but that no-one else from the company was involved.

When we pointed out that the MyBenefitsChecker domain was registered by Unfair Credit Direct Grainger replied:

‘It was indeed.  But it’s now being run by Powerhouse Media.’  He went on to claim that the directors of Unfair Credit Direct had registered the site but were never involved with it.

Powerhouse Media Ltd is listed by Companies House as a dormant company.  Its directors are involved with a number of other companies specialising in claims management and debt management. If it is indeed running MyBenefitsChecker then it’s details should, by law, appear on the website along with its company registration number. 

We also asked Grainger how much training his staff had in welfare benefits. He told us that:

‘We’ve got quite a few who have worked in benefits.  We’ve also got a chap who works independently in benefits.  He does all our assessments.’

When we asked for his name. However, we were told that:

‘I can’t give that information out without his permission.  He runs his own benefits company. He works as a one-man band.  He used to work for the DWP. He has a lot of history in benefits for about the last 20 years.’

Paul Brennan, of Preston, Lancashire ran his own benefits company .  In December 2008 he was jailed for six months for acts tending to pervert the course of justice.  He is now the sole director of Benefits Information Services Ltd, based in Chorley Lancashire.  The company’s website, www.BenefitAnswers.co.uk offers help with claims and appeals for a fee of 40% of any payments obtained.  The ‘team’ has over 20 years of experience in welfare benefits.

We have no evidence that Paul Brennan is acting for MyBenefitsChecker.  We did, however, request that Grainger ask their benefits specialist to email us to let us know who he is.  We’re still waiting.

Grainger assured us that MyBenefitsChecker have changed their terms and conditions and no longer threaten to recover money from people who do not do as they are instructed by his company.

Nonetheless, we would advise members to consider very carefully before handing over your  financial details to a group of people who are so reluctant to disclose who they really are and who will sting you for a massive 50% of any benefits you are awarded.

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