4 Jul 2014

Grandmother admits £37k benefit fraud

A grandmother who over-claimed almost £38,000 in disability benefit for more than 11 years after failing to tell the authorities she had regained her mobility has been spared jail.

Pauline Bunting claimed she was barely able to walk and needed a Disability Living Allowance to pay for someone to help prepare her food.

The 52-year-old made the claim in 1995 but continued receiving the benefit despite recovering enough in 2001 to get an office job, Newton Aycliffe magistrates were told.

Paula Sanderson, prosecuting, said that between October 2001, and April 2013, the Department of Works and Pensions overpaid Bunting by £37,691. Ms Sanderson said the payments were made by direct debit and Bunting, from Shildon, should have told the DWP she no longer qualified for the benefit.

Not by direct debit. Those are Debits, see?

Surveillance was carried out on Bunting who was recorded walking without any aid and when applying for her office job in 2001, she told her employers she did not have a disability, magistrates were told.

Bunting admitted obtaining money by deception when she appeared at court.

John Turner, mitigating, said Bunting initially carried on claiming the benefit to pay off a £6,000 debt racked up by her previous husband. He said she then was unable to work out how to tell the DWP she had been overpaid without it resulting in criminal charges. “It was like she had caught a tiger by the tail and now did not know how to let it go," he said.

It seems she still spent it, though.

The court heard Bunting was a victim of domestic abuse by her previous husband and suffered a serious leg injury when she tried to leave him in 1995. Mr Turner said that injury, which was almost a leg snap, resulted in her being barely able to walk and needing the extra assistance, for which she received the Disability Living Allowance.

He said Bunting is a respectable woman and one of the biggest punishments was losing her good character. Mr Turner said Bunting had dreaded telling her new husband and three adult children what she had done and coming to court had been a punishment in itself. He said she is repaying the overpayment by £150 per month.

Magistrates sentenced Bunting to 16 weeks in jail suspended for 18 months and fined her £500. She must also pay £85 costs and an £80 victim surcharge.

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