£22,000 benefit cheat sent to jail

Scarborough Magistrates Court
Scarborough Magistrates Court
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A BENEFIT fraudster from Scarborough who unlawfully claimed more than £22,000 was jailed yesterday.

Bernadette Whelan, 46, of Barwick Street, did not tell the authorities that she had received more than £44,000 from the sale of a property and had started working as a retail assistant.

She pleaded guilty to six charges in total, after fraudulently claiming £13,290 in housing tax benefit, £6,697 in income support and £2,030 in council tax benefit between August 2007 and September 2009.

She was jailed for 16 weeks, after magistrates ignored pleas to suspend any custodial sentence.

Kimberley Proud, litigation and regulations solicitor for Scarborough Council, said: “The defendant failed to declare capital of over £44,000 during the claim and that she was in paid employment.”

Miss Proud added that since the fraud was discovered, Whelan had began paying the money back to Scarborough Council at a rate of £90 per month, but said she still owed more than £14,289 to the local authority.

It was not stated whether or not Whelan had paid back any of the £6,697 she unlawfully claimed in income support from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Ian Brickman, mitigating, pointed out that his client had no previous convictions, had co-operated with investigators and had pleaded guilty to the offences at the first possible opportunity.

He added: “She has been aware since March last year that she was being investigated. It has taken an inordinate length of time to get to the court process. That has had an impact.

“It is fair to say the background in terms of her marital situation has been most unusual.

“None of the offences have been committed out of personal greed or to fund a lavish lifestyle - it is quite the contrary.

“She has had a very difficult life and is trying to come to terms with that.”

Mr Brickman accepted that the amount of money taken was so high that the offences passed the custody threshold set out in sentencing guidelines, but said magistrates could suspend any custodial sentence.

“If she was sent into custody her employment and accommodation will be at risk,” he added. “She has already come to an arrangement with the authorities in terms of repayment.

“She will benefit from supervision and will also be able to put back into the community through unpaid work, in addition to the voluntary work this lady already does.”

Whelan is expected to serve half of the 16 week sentence.