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18 Apr 2013

Norfolk woman jailed for £98k benefit frauds

A Norfolk mother-of-two who fraudulently claimed almost £100,000 in benefits over an eight year period has been jailed.

Norwich Crown Court heard Joanne Skillings, 37, from Gayton, near King’s Lynn, dishonestly claimed more than £98,000 between February 2002 and October 2010.

Skillings was sentenced after previously admitting seven counts, six of dishonest representation for obtaining benefit and one of obtaining a money transfer by deception, relating to income support, employment support allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit.

Jailing Skillings for a total of 16 months Judge Mark Lucraft said: “It goes without saying benefit frauds are serious, they call into question public confidence in a system and they mean scarce public resources are being paid into those who are not entitled to them.”

Judge Lucraft, who added offences like these also cause those legitimately receiving benefits to be put under increased scrutiny, said the case was “so serious” that the sentence could not be suspended and had to be immediate custody.

Shanda McAteer, prosecuting, said the offences rose out of payments made to the defendant dating back to February 2002 on the basis she was “a single parent with two dependent children”.

She said: “As part of the application she signed a declaration saying she would notify the department (DWP) if any change in circumstances".

However in court it emerged Skillings was in fact living with her husband.

Subsequent investigations showed financial payments were made by her husband, including for a fishing licence, while he was living at that address.

Jamas Hodivala, mitigating, said the “most powerful” mitigation was her guilty pleas to the offences which he described as being “unsophisticated” adding that none of the offending involved forged documents.

Mr Hodivala, who accepted the offending was over a “significant” period of time, said she was a “caring”, “family” lady who “acted out of character” and who had suffered from degenerative back problems for the past 15 years.

He said Skillings, who left school with no qualifications was an “unattractive package” for prospective employers and, until recently, had not worked since the birth of her first child 18 years ago.

Mr Hodivala said when her husband was working his income was “simply insufficient to run a family household” adding that she “sought financial security by illegal means to stabilise the situation at home”.

Speaking after the case, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “Benefit fraud is a crime. While the vast majority of claimants are honest, the minority who try to play the system need to know our investigators are on their tail.”

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