Benefit cheat told to pay back more than £42,000
A MARRIED woman who pretended to be a single mum so she could claim more than £42,000 in benefits has been told to repay the cash.
Between January 1995 and April 2008, Jacqueline Needham claimed she was living alone. She was sharing a house with her husband, David.
During that time she claimed £42,094 in income support and £3,709 in council tax benefit to which she was not entitled.
Sentencing the 42-year-old, Judge David Pugsley described the mother's crime as "despicable" and "dishonest".
He said: "The welfare state was the embodiment of the aspirations of people who had seen the desperate misery of people in the depression of the 1930s. There was a yearning for a different sort of society. People like you have cynically and callously disregarded that."
Derby Crown Court heard there had been several occasions over the years when Needham could have come clean about her living arrangements while filling in income support claim forms.
But instead she maintained she was a single mother, having split from her husband.
Henry Davies, prosecuting, said: "She now accepts she had never separated from her husband and was never a single parent and that her claim was false from the outset."
In mitigation, Simon Eckersley said Needham was a woman of previously good character who had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.
He said: "She and her husband recognise they have an obligation to the state to pay it back."
Since January last year, Needham has been paying back £150 a month towards the dishonestly claimed income support and has now paid off £2,000 of the £42,094 she owes.
She has also paid off about £800 of the £3,709 council tax overpayments.
She pleaded guilty to dishonestly claiming money and falsifying documents.
Judge Pugsley sentenced her to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years.
He said the fact that she had owned up about the council tax overpayments, which led to the discovery of the income support fraud, had influenced his decision.
But he made it clear that he wanted to see "every single penny" of the money repaid, saying: "If it takes 20 years, it takes 20 years – it's better than being in prison."
Needham is now expected to remortgage her home in Atlow Road, Chaddesden, to help pay off the money.
Anti-Fraud Minister Helen Goodman said: "Benefit thieves take money intended for the most vulnerable in our society.
"Quite rightly the public get angry about such antisocial behaviour and with their support we are closing in on these thieves."
Anyone who suspects someone of benefit theft can call the National Benefit Fraud Hotline in confidence on 0800 854 440 or visit www.dwp. gov.uk/benefit-thieves