Pensioners fined for egg fraud

Hens

Stephen and Anne Hobbs, a 65 and 66-year-old couple from Three Legged Cross in Dorset, have been fined for passing off battery farmed eggs as being from the hens in their garden. Trading Standards took the couple to court, where they were fined £300 each and made to pay the court costs of £1,178.

So what did they do? And are they Britain's oldest fraudsters?
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Caught

The couple came under scrutiny when a member of the public noticed that despite not having bought any more hens, they were suddenly offering a lot more eggs for sale at their front gate. They contacted Trading Standards who bought some eggs and took them away for examination. The experts found that the eggs had originally been stamped with a producer code, which the couple had removed.

They discovered that the couple, who were charging £2.20 a dozen for their eggs, had bought them for £1.30 a dozen from a battery farm. They had bought a total of 12,000.

While the couple did not advertise the eggs specifically as being from their own garden, the court ruled that they had implied it, by the removal of the stamp, and by the fact the hens could be seen roaming nearby.

Why?

During the case, it emerged that the couple, who had been selling their own eggs for years, had suddenly suffered an egg shortage. Their hens stopped laying after being troubled by a fox, and they decided to supplement the supply for a while. They added that they didn't make a profit from selling the eggs, and that it just paid for the chicken feed.

The couple pleaded guilty to selling falsely-advertised eggs and removing their identification stamp at Bournemouth Crown court.

Ivan Hancock, of Dorset County Council's trading standards department, said in a statement that the reason this case was worth prosecuting is the importance of people knowing the provenance of their food - which has been at the forefront of consumers' minds since the horse meat scandal.

He said: "Many consumers choose to buy from local outlets to support local producers or particular methods of farming or production. Anyone misleading customers undermines that choice and abuses the trust consumers place on local food suppliers."

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Figures from charity Age UK show that 29% of those over 60 feel uncertain or negative about their current financial situation - with millions facing poverty and hardship. Even though saving for retirement is not much fun, the message is therefore that having to rely on dwindling state benefits in retirement is even less so. To avoid ending up in this situation, adviser Hargreaves Lansdown recommends saving a proportion of your salary equal to half your age at the time of starting a pension. In other words, if you are 30 when you start a pension, you should put in 15% throughout your working life. If you start at 24, saving 12% of your salary a year should produce a similar return.
Many older couples rely on the pension income of one person - often the man. Should that person die first, the other person can therefore be left in a difficult position financially.
One way to prevent financial hardship for the surviving person is to take out a joint life annuity that will continue to pay out up to 67% of the original payments to the surviving partner should one of them die.

The disadvantage of this approach, however, is that the rate you receive will be lower. Again, the Pensions Advisory Service on 0845 601 2923 is a useful first port of call if you are unsure what to do.

Around 427,000 households in the over-70 age groups are either three months behind with a debt repayment or subject to some form of debt action such as insolvency, according to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS).

Its figures also show that those aged 60 or older who came to the CCCS for help last year owed an average of £22,330. Whether you are retired or not, the best way to tackle debt problems is head on.

Free counselling services from the likes of CCCS and Citizens Advice can help with budgeting and dealing with creditors.

Importantly, they can also conduct a welfare benefits check to make sure you are receiving the pension credit, housing and council tax benefits, attendance and disability living allowances you are entitled to.

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The average UK pensioner household faces a £111,400 tax bill in retirement as increasing longevity means pensioners are living on average up to 19 years past the age of 65, according to figures from MetLife. And every year in retirement adds an extra £5,864 in direct and indirect taxes based on current tax rates to the costs for the average pensioner household. You can be forced to go bankrupt if you fail to pay your taxes, so it is vital to factor these costs into your retirement planning.It is also important to check that you are receiving all the benefits and tax breaks you are entitled to if you want to make the most of your retirement cash.

The cost of a room in a care home in many parts of the country is now over £30,000 a year, according to figures from Prestige Nursing and Care. So even if the prime minister announces a cap on care costs - last year the economist Andrew Dilnot called for a new system of funding which would mean that no one would pay more than £35,000 for lifetime care - families will still face huge accommodation costs. Ways to cut this cost include opting for home care rather than a care home. Jonathan Bruce, managing director of Prestige Nursing and Care, said: "For older people who may need care in the shorter term, home care is an option which allows people to maintain their independence for longer while living in their own home and should be included in the cap." However, the only other answer is to save more while you can.
Older Britons are often targeted by unscrupulous criminals - especially if they have a bit of money put away. For example, many over 50s were victims of the so-called courier scam that tricked into keying their pin numbers into their phones and handing their cards to "couriers" who visited their homes. It parted consumers from £1.5 million in under two years. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Barnard, head of the bank sponsored dedicated cheque and plastic crime unit (DCPCU), said: "Many of us feel confident that we can spot fraudsters, but this type of crime can be sophisticated and could happen to anyone." The same is true of boiler room scams that target wealthier Britons with money to invest, offering "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities to snap up shares at bargain prices. Tactics to watch out for include cold calling, putting you under pressure to pay up or lose the opportunity for good, and claiming to have insider information that they are prepared to share with you.
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So are this pair Britain's oldest fraudsters?

They have some stiff competition: they're not even the oldest fraudsters of the last few months. In the middle of this May a 72-year-old man was found guilty of fraudulently claiming over £30,000 in pension credit and council tax benefit for nine years, despite owning property overseas. He also had £140,000 in a bank account, which subsequently vanished. He was sentenced to 16 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, and a 16 week curfew. The authorities will also pursue him for repayment.

A week earlier, a 76-year-old woman from Kirriemuir was found guilty of fraudulently claiming £18,000 in benefits, by failing to disclose her occupational pension. The sheriff said it was normally enough to justify a prison sentence, but given her age she was give a nine-month restriction of liberty order instead.

Then at the end of May this year, a 77-year-old woman was fined £7,500 for benefits fraud. She told the authorities that she lived on a small pension in Dundee, and she qualified for pension credit. However, while she took this benefit she was actually living in South Africa, had over £145,000 in savings and only popped back to Dundee twice a year. She avoided custody as she was too ill to even attend court.

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If, like many Britons, you have failed to save the cash you need to maintain a comfortable standard of living in retirement, one option is to sell your home and downsize to a smaller property, using the money leftover to cover your living costs.
If moving out of the family home is too much of a wrench, however, the good news is that equity release schemes allow you to stay in your house or flat while still using the equity built up in it to provide some extra cash. The downside of the schemes, which work a bit like mortgages, is that you may not have much left to pass on to any children or other relatives.
But that's a small price to pay for a reasonable standard of living. For more information, try Age UK on 0800 169 6565.

Choosing the right annuity can have a significant impact on your retirement income. And as with most pensions, you automatically have what's called an 'open-market option' (OMO), you can scour the market for the highest annuity rate.
It is worth checking what your pension provider is offering first, though, as some companies offer guaranteed rates for existing customers that are likely to beat those available elsewhere. The Pensions Advisory Service on 0300 123 1047 is a good place to get some free advice.

On retirement, most people convert their pension fund into a guaranteed income annuity that pays out the same amount every month for the rest of their lives.
However, you can also choose an increasing annuity that pays out smaller amounts in the first few years but offers larger payments further down the line. This may prove a wise move if the rate of inflation remains at over 2%.

It is now easier to work later in life because the "default retirement age" has been scrapped.
People approaching retirement age and worrying about money can therefore choose to work for a few years longer - potentially transforming their financial situation. Other than the extra income from working, these people can look forward to higher state pensions, and higher annuity rates due to their greater age.
They can also benefit from bigger tax allowances and the fact that they no longer have to pay National Insurance contributions. Check out this nidirect website for more details.

You could get a much better rate with an impaired-life annuity if you have a medical condition that is likely to reduce your life expectancy.
Incredibly, even snoring, which is a common symptom of Sleep Apnoea could have an impact.
According to figures from MGM Advantage, a man with this condition could receive an extra £12,000 retirement income over the course of their retirement - or £571.44 extra money each year. Click here to find out more.

To maximise your retirement income, it is vital to ensure that you are receiving all the benefits to which you are entitled. These include the basic State Pension, and in some cases, the additional State Pension.
If you are on a low income, you could also qualify for the guaranteed element of Pension Credit, while those with some savings may get the savings element of this benefit. For more information about these and other benefits such as the Winter Fuel Payment, click here.

Many older couples rely on the pension income of one person - often the man. Should that person die first, the other person can therefore be left in a difficult position financially.
One way to prevent financial hardship for the surviving person is to take out a joint life annuity that will continue to pay out up to 67% of the original payments to the surviving partner should one of them die.
The disadvantage of this approach, however, is that the rate you receive will be lower. Again, the Pensions Advisory Service on 0845 601 2923 is a useful first port of call if you are unsure what to do.

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