2 Apr 2014

Father pays off daughter's benefit fraud debt

The father of a Chepstow woman who fraudulently claimed more than £27,000 in housing benefit has remortgaged his home in order to pay back the taxpayer.

His daughter Natasha Willetts, 28, claimed £650 a month for five years saying she was renting a house she actually owned, using the cash to help pay off her mortgage, Cardiff Crown Court heard.

Willetts wept with relief as Recorder Ian Murphy QC told her she would not be going to prison for the fraud, which began in 2008 and saw her claim £27,799.35.

Recorder Murphy QC described Willetts’ house as a “legitimate target” if she proved unable to pay back the money she fraudulently claimed. But Stephen Thomas, mitigating, told the court: “Her father has remortgaged his own property and he is in a position today to write a cheque to the local authority for the amount that has been overpaid.”

Willetts was told to carry out 60 hours of unpaid work and was given a suspended prison sentence after she admitted three offences of fraud.

The court heard that she submitted a false tenancy agreement showing that she was renting the house on Raglan Way from her father when in fact it was jointly owned by her and her husband. She said she did not own property and did not have a mortgage, the court heard, when in fact she had bought the house for £145,000 one year previously in 2007.

The false claims, which went on until May 2013, were found out after the council asked her to update them with any changes in circumstances and she said she no longer wanted to claim housing benefit.

She started the false claims because she was struggling to pay her mortgage after splitting from her husband, the court heard.

Mr Willetts was a guarantor on his daughter’s mortgage and had provided her with money for a deposit, the court heard, but had no stake in the property.

After the split with her husband Willetts sought advice from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and following a discussion tried to transfer the property to her father but was unsuccessful.

Increasingly desperate as she was looking after two of her own young children and fostering a third, she “stuck her head in the sand” after making a false claim, Mr Thomas, mitigating, said. He added Willetts was “very sorry and acutely embarrassed having brought shame on herself and her family.”

Recorder Ian Murphy QC described Willetts as of “exemplary” character prior to this case, telling her “you have devoted yourself to caring for other children as a foster carer”.

He imposed her a five-month suspended sentence for the first offence of fraud and two concurrent suspended sentences of three months for the two further fraud offences, each suspended for one year, as well as the 60 hours of unpaid work.

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