A 61-year-old widow has avoided jail after a romantic card helped unravel a serious benefit fraud of more than £50,000.
Teresa De Jesus Andrade Goncalves, who was given a two-year suspended sentence by the Royal Court on Friday, started claiming Survivor’s Benefit following the death of her husband in 2003.
The benefit is made up of two elements: Survivor's Allowance, which is paid for 52 weeks after the death, and then Survivor's Pension.
Both only available to those who do not remarry or enter a marriage-like relationship – yet Goncalves continued to claim after a new partner moved in in 2004. The pair, the Royal Court heard, had been living together since, sharing all expenses and a bank account.
During her sentencing, Crown Advocate Chris Baglin explained that claimants of the Survivor's Benefit must contact the Customer and Local Services Department if their living circumstances change.
Pictured: Goncalves was sentenced in the Royal Court on Friday.
In March 2019, the Department began an investigation into potential false declarations made by Goncalves, who was defended by Advocate Rui Tremoceiro.
They found that Goncalves had declared in letters in 2013, 2015 and 2019 that she had not been co-habiting at any time while receiving the Survivor's Pension, and understood she had to tell the Department if this changed.
"The reality was that the Defendant had been living with her partner... since at least 17 May 2004. In total, she received £117,311.99 in benefits to which she was not entitled from that date until 19 June 2019," Crown Advocate Baglin said. She was eventually sentenced on a lower figure of £52,380, as she was not deemed to be liable for the full amount.
Social Security officers visited Goncalves' home address in June. Initially, there was no answer, but Goncalves' partner arrived shortly after and let them in.
Officers noted that he had a set of keys and that there were family photos of him and the defendant inside.
Although the pair were not married, they also spotted a card addressed "to my lovely wife".
There was no suggestion that she or her partner had enjoyed a lavish lifestyle as a result of the benefit.
Interviewed by Police one week later, Goncalves admitted that the pair had been together for 15 years, and that "there would be no difference in their relationship and their day-to-day lives if they were to get married".
The Madeira-born islander also said that the 'change of circumstances' declarations had been translated by friends for her as they were in English. An interpreter was made available for her in court.
Seven days later, she signed an agreement to repay the money owed at a rate of £60 per week, with an initial payment of £7,000.
The repayments, and her lack of previous convictions, were taken into account by the Royal Court - presided by the Deputy Bailiff Robert Macrae, sitting with Jurats Jane Ronge and Kim Averty – during sentencing.
She was subsequently handed a suspended two-year jail term.
If Goncalves commits another offence during that period and was sentenced to prison, she would have to serve time behind bars for the fraud as well as any new sentence.
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