12 Mar 2014

Repeat benefit fraud offender gets suspended sentence

A 62-year-old Newquay woman who received more than £8,000 in benefits to which she was not entitled has been spared an immediate jail term.

Susan Bailey, who was jailed for eight months in 2008 for similar offences, was handed a suspended sentence and curfew when she appeared before magistrates on Thursday.

The court was told her home had been put under surveillance during an investigation by Cornwall Council and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Bailey, who had pleaded not guilty to five offences, was found guilty of all the charges at a trial in January.

She was convicted of making a false statement to the DWP in a telephone call on August 31, 2012, while making a claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), by stating she was living alone when in fact she was living with her husband, and of failing to declare her husband or his income on council forms on or about September 6, 2012, September 13, 2012, and January 2, 2013, in respect of claims for housing and council tax benefit.

Kingsley Keate, for the prosecution, said that following her ESA claim Bailey completed housing and council tax benefit forms as a single person living in rented accommodation. She was paid £150 per week as a result.

However, after receiving information that Bailey's husband had not vacated the property, surveillance was undertaken in November and December 2012 and March and April 2013. A vehicle owned by him was seen leaving in the mornings and was parked there in the evening, as well as at weekends, said Mr Keate.

In an interview on May 2, 2013, Bailey claimed she had had no contact with her husband until five weeks previously and said that he had no key to the property – although she admitted later that this was not true.

Mr Keate told the court that the couple had been living together from August 25, 2012, and Bailey's ESA claim on August 31 had been "false from the outset". The total amount of benefits overpaid to her was £8,122.16. Some had now been repaid and a balance remained of £7,480.

Sarah Payne, for the defence, told the court that Bailey did not accept the finding of guilt on the latest offences. Just before the claim was made, her husband had had an affair and moved out. It was only after the investigation that they had been reconciled. He had a key to the garage during their estrangement, as he kept tools there, but the door between the garage and the house was kept locked.

Probation officer Tony Ciocci, in a pre-sentence report, said Bailey had had alcohol and mental health problems, including suicide attempts, but these did not cause her offending behaviour, which he was unable to analyse given her continued "absolute denial" of guilt.

The magistrates imposed a 24-week prison sentence on Bailey, suspended for 12 months, with an 8pm-to-8am nightly curfew for the next three months. They refused a request by Ms Payne that the start of the curfew be delayed to allow Bailey to go on a short break to Greece, as the trip had been booked at a time when she was aware that she might be sent to prison.

She was also ordered to pay £1,995 in costs. The court was told that negotiations were continuing about repaying the money she owed.

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