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Prison for mother who swindled £44k benefits

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

A mother who pocketed almost £44,000 while 'cynically' swindling the benefits system has been jailed for eight months.

Katherine Smith collected income support and Jobseekers allowance she was not entitled to for years after lying that she was a single mother living alone, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.

In fact she and her partner Peter Scott shared the house and jointly applied for a loan for improvements to the property, Mr Harpreet Sandhu, prosecuting, said.

He told the court: "The claim was fraudulent from the outset. The joint application for the home improvements loan came just 30 days after she first applied for income support. The couple also had a joint bank account and Mr Scott paid the utility bills."

Smith, now 38 and of previous good character, fraudulently claimed income support for years before illegally picking up Jobseekers Allowance, the court was told.

Mr Roy Paterson, defending, told the court the crime had resulted from a 'misunderstanding' of the law by the defendant. She was also anxious that she could not bring up her 17-year-old daughter without the financial support of her partner, it was claimed.

Smith, of Ryland Close, Tipton, pleaded guilty to cheating the public revenue of income support between October 2003 and September 2009. She admitted a similar offence involving Jobseekers Allowance between September 2009 and March 2012. The crimes involved a total of £44,886.67.

Sentencing her to eight months in prison, Judge Michael Challinor told her: "This was fraud right from the start and you cheated the benefits system cynically for years. The public are rightly concerned with this sort of offending."

Figures released by the Department for the Work & Pensions show that benefits cheats cost the taxpayer millions of pounds every year.

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Last year, there were more than 2,000 criminal cases prosecuted in central England, which includes the West Midlands. There were a further 5,300 cautions or penalties imposed as well, with the total overpayment hitting about £40m.

But financial experts working for the department are using Proceeds of Crime Act powers to recoup money stolen by cheats, forcing them to repay the money quickly – or face jail.

The department also uses hidden cameras and mobile surveillance to track offenders. Figures released to the Express & Star last year revealed the DWP's Fraud Investigation Unit clawed back £9.5m last year.

Benefit theft can include not informing the department about any employment or earnings, not revealing savings or inherited money.

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