Benefit cheat who dishonestly claimed £20,000 was 'naive'
A Barton woman who admitted dishonestly claiming more than £20,000 in benefits has avoided jail.
Shirley Smith, 46, of Fairfield Drive, admitted six offences dating back to 2005 – which saw her being overpaid a total of £20,360.42 in income support, council tax benefit and housing benefit.
Prosecutor Michael Cranmer-Brown told Grimsby Crown Court that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) believed the total amount overpaid may have been closer to £56,000 and that it may yet pursue a civil action to reclaim the full amount.
However, he said she only faced criminal convictions relating to the lower figure, as the Crown Prosecution Service had agreed to reduce an original indictment of 11 charges to the six admitted by Smith.
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Mr Cranmer-Brown told the court that Smith's offences came to light after she and her husband – who is an active member of the travelling community – made a joint application to buy their council house.
Previously, she had legitimately claimed housing benefit, income support and council tax benefit, after the couple split up.
However, she failed to notify North Lincolnshire Council and the DWP after they reconciled, admitting at interview that she "knew she should have told them" her husband had moved back in.
In mitigation, Chris Dickins said his client was the sole carer for her 15-year-old daughter and that her husband, who neither worked nor claimed benefits, was "often absent from the family home for considerable periods of time", leaving her to manage the finances alone.
He said his client was "naive" and may have been acting under the influence of others, adding that she had seemed "unable to assess the outcome of her behaviour".
Mr Dickins said she was now paying back both the local authority and DWP at a rate of £56 per week, out of her modest income as a part-time cleaner and family tax credits.
Recorder Euan Duff sentenced Smith to 12 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, with 150 hours of unpaid work and the requirement to undertake eight sessions of activity, specifically for women.