19 Apr 2014

£40k benefit thief mother effectively gets no punishment

A benefit cheat who stole £40,000 was spared jail because she has six children – and now, she has been allowed to skip her community service as well.

Trudy Nelder, who claimed to be a single mother when she was really living with her husband, says she is too ill to complete the 200 hours of unpaid work she was handed as a punishment.

The 42-year-old was given the option of a curfew instead, but when she argued that this would also interfere with caring for her children, it was limited to weeknights.

Nelder, from Cheltenham, falsely claimed £40,294 from the state between January 2009 and August 2011, when she failed to tell the Department for Work and Pensions she was living with her husband. She claimed that she was a single mother with no income – but her husband had a job with Cheltenham Borough Council.

In February last year, a judge gave her a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He did not send her to jail in recognition of the fact that she had to take care of her six children, but warned that any further problems would result in automatic prison time. He also ordered her to do 200 hours of unpaid work.

But Nelder has now had her sentence changed, claiming that an operation she had in October left her too ill to do the work. Instead, she was given a curfew, but even that has now been scaled down because she claimed it would not fit conveniently with caring for her children, who are aged between 11 and 21.

Recorder Michael Gibney said that her illness was a ‘realistic reason’ to reconsider the sentence. He agreed that the 7.30pm to 7am curfew, which will run for three months, should only apply from Monday to Friday because of the ‘exceptional circumstances’. However, he warned her to be careful: ‘You need to be aware this court has taken a lenient approach.’

When Nelder was originally sentenced last year, Recorder Michael Selfe told her: ‘You have admitted to stealing £40,000 of public money. ‘You knew perfectly well what you were doing and you carried on until you were caught.’ He added: ‘I have considered a custodial sentence may have an impact on the care of children, but there is a limit to how far you can rely on problems with child care. I have, however, come to the conclusion I can suspend this sentence and you should understand that if you commit any further offence of any sort you will go to prison immediately.’

The court heard that Nelder had told police her husband was a violent man and she wanted a divorce.

Joe Maloney, defending, said Nelder’s husband was controlling and she was looking after the children on her own. 'She has no previous convictions and is in a financial mess. She is already being threatened by bailiffs. She is in debt and she has just buried her head in the sand on this.’

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