24 Jun 2014

Benefit thief given more than 150 years to pay debt

A Plymouth benefit cheat is paying back £40,000 at a rate that will take about 154 years to clear her debt, a court was told.

Mother-of-two Maria Hassall, aged 38, who dishonestly claimed cash for nearly six years, is paying back the money at £5 a week. She will have to live to the age of about 192 to raise the sum.

Hassall pocketed almost £40,000 in benefits by failing to tell the authorities she was living with her working husband, Plymouth Crown Court was told. She was paid income support, housing benefit and council tax relief to which she was not entitled between 2007 and 2013.

Hassall pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly failing to disclose information she was under a legal duty to give Plymouth City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions. She did not tell the authorities she was living with her working husband in order to make a gain in benefit.

Her barrister Will Willden told the court: “The money is being recovered by the appropriate authorities, it will take some time to pay back.”

Judge Paul Darlow replied: “It is £5 a week to recover £40,000. You do the sums, Mr Willden.”

Mr Willden said she claimed benefits legitimately having split from her working husband. But she did not tell the authorities when he returned to the house. Mr Willden said: “She buried her head in the sand.”

The court heard that investigators spoke to neighbours, looked at their finances and Mr Hassall’s work records to establish they lived together.

Mr Willden said that the defendant was in poor health and her daughter also “had difficulties”.

Judge Darlow said: “It would have been pretty obvious that when your husband moved back in that your benefits were no longer payable.” But he said he was taking into account her good character and her care of two children.

Hassall was handed a 20-week prison sentence suspended for two years. She must also stick to a 12-week curfew from Monday to early Sunday morning between 10am and 1pm and 8pm to 5am. Hassall must also pay £400 prosecution costs.


The investigator said...

Odd comment by the judge. People don't need to be single parents to get HB/CTB. Indeed, most working age people legitimately getting these benefits are working.

Anonymous said...

I work in Housing Benefit and the majority do not work, many have not worked for years, some have never worked and never will. They change from JSA to I.S to ESA and back again.

Many that do work only declare the minimum number of hours for WTC. Many more self employed cases who ALL declare a pittance.