A mother-of-three, who falsely claimed over £34,000 in benefits - which will take her 16 years to repay -has avoided jail over fears her children would have to be sent into care.
The 27-year-old appeared in the Magistrate's Court on Friday where she was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to Social Security fraud.
The Court heard that she had received an increased claim over a three-year period after advising the Social Security Department she was no longer with her partner, when in fact they were still living together - and even went on to have a child together.
Legal Adviser Sam Morris told Court that her claim was initially valid, but that it was increased in February 2014 after she advised the department of her 'separation'.
The matter came to the attention of Social Security’s fraud department after she and her partner made an application for affordable housing in March 2017. It transpired that between February 2014 and March 2017, a partner who was supposed to have moved out, hadn't done so.
Pictured: The case came before the Magistrate's Court on Friday.
Ms Morris said the case was only brought to court this year because there were not enough staff within the department to deal with enforcement and give notices. “Once fully looked at and considered, her claim was suspended and reassessed,” Ms Morris said.
Over the three-year period, Social Security paid an extra £34,705 to the woman, who admitted her offences during an interview.
She has already started repaying the amount by way of deductions from her current income support claim, the Court heard. She is receiving £200 less than she normally would, leaving her with £35,000 annually. This means that it will take her 16 years to repay the money she unduly received.
The Assistant Magistrate Peter Harris described the amount as “staggering” and “a huge financial cost to the taxpayer”, before noting that there was no way for him to impose a fine.
Pictured: The Assistant Magistrate was reluctant to send her to prison.
“To impose a prison sentence would mean the third and fourth child going into care, which would have consequences for the children,” he said.
He went on to say that a community service alternative seemed “difficult to envisage in the circumstances”, as he couldn’t see her completing her order within the next 12 months, as the law demands.
“In the 16 years it will take her to repay the amount she obtained unlawfully, she and her partner would have received well in excess of half a million pounds in benefits,” he told Court.
Addressing her, he said that, by obtaining funds improperly, she had placed a burden on the Social Security Department and those who need support from it, as well as on “those members of the community who pay into such fund.”
Pictured: Advocate Rui Tremoceiro was defending.
Advocate Rui Tremoceiro, defending, said she had made admissions early on about her offences and had since done all the right things.
He told Court she felt remorse, regret and shame, which the Probation Service had deemed to be genuine. Describing the case as a sad one, like many other similar cases, he handed out letters of reference on behalf of his client to the court.
Returning his sentence, the Assistant Magistrate said: “By being dishonest with the Social Security Department, you received over £34,000 that you were not entitled to. It seems that by coincidence you’re continuing to receive the same sum every year after deduction of what you owe.”
“The money that Social Security pays out is paid in by people who are working,” he added. “They are the victims in this case, including everyone in this courtroom who is working and paying taxes.”
Pictured: The Assistant Magistrate said the case was serious enough to be sent to Royal Court.
He noted that the defendant had been candid with the authorities and pleaded guilty when the case was brought to Court and that she had no previous convictions.
He warned her her case could have been sent to Royal Court, but that it had stayed within the jurisdiction of the Magistrate’s Court because of the mitigating factors in her favour. “This case is at the very high end of this court’s powers,” he nonetheless added.
He then went on to explain he didn’t have much choice regarding the sentence to impose. “A prison sentence of 12 months would be more than justified, but, because of the ages of your children, going to prison today is not the appropriate sentence,” he told her.
“You clearly can’t pay a fine. The probation report says you are at low risk of reconviction and therefore I am not going to make a probation order.”
Pictured: It will take 16 years for the mother of three to repay the amount she unlawfully claimed.
“Normally, the alternative is Community Service,” he continued. “Although you have been assessed as willing to do community service, that has to be done within 12 months and I can see no prospect of that being feasible, so my sentencing options are very limited.”
He eventually opted for a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years.
Although he didn’t make a probation order, Mr Harris said the service will still assess her.
Finally, he declined to make a recommendation for deportation, but warned that this does not prevent the relevant Minister from considering the matter.
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