Linda Hoey, who alleged she could barely walk and needed a stick to get around, claimed the highest rate of mobility allowance, entitling her to a specially adapted vehicle, Stafford Crown Court heard.
She used the car to get free rides on the M6 Toll Road, notching up almost £16,000 in exempted fees, it is alleged.
But work colleagues at her Cannock office, where she walked freely without a stick and carried back bags from lunchtime shopping trips, were unaware she was disabled.
The 57-year-old had been claiming care and mobility needs for degenerative arthritis and a back problem since 1995 but an investigation by the Department of Work and Pensions revealed she had been in paid employment since 1997. On her latest Disability Living Allowance claim form, from 2004, she stated it would take her up to five minutes to walk four metres and she did not feel strong enough to be on her own at any time, said Mr Anthony Cartin, prosecuting, said: “Since 1995, she has had seven Motobility vehicles.”
Her disability allowance went to pay the lease of the Motability vehicle. Without it, she would be unable to carry out ‘normal’ day-to-day tasks such as school runs and trips to the library, doctors and post office, she said. As a result of an appeal in 2001, Hoey’s allowance was increased, the court heard. She claimed on the form: “My Motobility expires soon and I feel depressed with the thought I will not be able to get around.”
She said she got ‘tearful and frightened for the future.’ Her husband was her main carer and and without him she would be housebound. “I desperately try to get around and not become a prisoner to my disability,” she added.
Previously the court heard that photographs seized from her Staffordshire home showed her scuba-diving, snorkelling and bending over a snooker table to take a shot.
Lisa Prince, a senior fraud investigator at the DWP, told the court there was no legal requirement for applicants to provide medical evidence to back up their claims. Instead benefits were decided on the basis of the claimant’s own assessment on forms.
The allowance has since been replaced by a Personal Independence Payment.
Hoey was arrested in 2015 and initially gave a ‘no comment’ interview. Questioned two and a half months later, she made some concessions, such as not needing a walking stick all the time.
Mr Cartin said: “She knew the game was up and acknowledged some of her previous claims were not truthful. She was dishonest about the amount of difficulty she had getting around and caring for herself.”
During investigations, photos of her scuba diving were found at her home. Hoey, of Talland Avenue, Armington, Tamworth, denies fraudulently misrepresenting her claim to the DWP by exaggerating her mobility and care needs between 2001 and 2015 and misusing an exemption pass for the M6 Toll Road between 2004 and 2015. The overpayments totalled £65,244.
The trial continues.