16 Jun 2014

No jail for £27k benefit thief mother

A benefits cheat who stole £27,000 in handouts has been spared jail, despite a furious judge telling her: 'Taxpayers are sick of people like you.' (h/t Dave)

Hannah Sargent, 29, told the authorities she was a single parent and claimed thousands between August 2009 and March 2012.

The mother-of-one claimed income support from July 2006 until July 2011 as well as housing, council and child tax benefits. But Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard she was in fact living with a man whom she later married.

She admitted two offences of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances, making a false representation to obtain benefits and two counts of fraudulently obtaining tax credits. Judge Paul Glenn said the offending was serious enough to merit custody but that Sargent's daughter would lose out if she was jailed. Instead she was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for 18 months, ordered to undertake 180 hours unpaid work and pay £250 costs.

During the hearing the judge told the mother that hardworking taxpayers were 'sick and tired of people like you.'

Judge Glenn said: 'This was not a trivial amount. You did not declare that you were living as husband and wife until March 2012. Benefit cheats take away public money which would otherwise be spent on good causes. Honest taxpayers are sick and tired of people like you taking their money.'

The court heard Sargent, from Chesterton, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, notified HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on March 9, 2012 that her partner had moved in with her. Despite denying that she had been living with him until then, investigators found she had been overpaid a total of £27,165.

Prosecutor Joanne Wallbanks said: 'In July 2011, the benefit changed to Jobseeker’s Allowance, until October 2011, when she became employed. That benefit would have been dishonest from the outset. She also claimed child tax credits between August 2009 and March 2012 and working tax credits from April 2011 to March 2012. That would have been fraudulent from the start. And she claimed housing and council tax benefit from August 2009 to 2011. She was under an obligation to notify any change of circumstances if she co-habitated or married.'

Arif Hussain defending Sargent, who has no previous convictions, said she is voluntarily repaying the money at a rate of £105 a month.

After the case Rosemary Phillips, of HMRC, said: 'Sargent lied on numerous occasions to continue to receive benefits she wasn’t entitled to, pocketing money needed to fund public services. We recognise it is only a minority exploiting the system but would encourage anyone with information relating to tax credit fraud to call.'

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