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27 Nov 2014

No jail for £130k "deaf" benefit thieves

Two company directors who pocketed tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayers' money from bogus claims for sign language interpreters have avoided prison. (h/t Dave)

Tracy Holliday, 39, and Ian Johnston, 43, sent their children to private school off the back of the £134,000 they made from bogus claims for interpreters and support staff they did not use.

Despite their crimes being branded 'sickening' by the Minister for Disabled People, the pair have walked free from court on suspended sentences.

Teesside Crown Court heard Johnston and Holliday ran the Darlington and Sunderland Deaf Club and were directors of a business 'D-Deaf Development'.

Holliday, who is hard of hearing but has no problem communicating, claimed she needed a highly-qualified sign language interpreter and a specialist note taker because she was profoundly deaf.

Despite claiming thousands of pounds from the government’s Access to Work scheme, witnesses said Holliday had not been supported by anyone over the three year period that claims were made.

She and her partner, both from Darlington, County Durham, also claimed for interpreters for two other members of staff who they said were profoundly deaf and needed support to carry out their duties. In fact they did not.

Neither of the staff had any idea about the scam. Holliday asked them to sign the declaration on bank claim forms, and then used their signatures for the disability claim without their knowledge.

Another two members of staff, paid £7 an hour, were named as their ‘support workers’, and Holliday submitted fake invoices for £25 an hour from them to the government’s Access to Work Fund.

Johnston is said to have pocketed £106,267 in the scams and Holliday made a further £27,797.

Prosecutors said the couple used the three-year fraud to prop up their failing business.

Johnston was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, and Holliday was sentenced to four months' imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Speaking after the case, Minister for Disabled People Mark Harper said: 'This is a sickening example of two people milking a system designed especially to support disabled people to get or keep a job. Access to Work helps over 35,000 disabled people to do their job. More and more disabled people are getting into work thanks to this fund and our Disability Confident campaign - as employers recognise the tremendous skills they bring to business. If any employers think they can misuse Access to Work, then they should think again. We are targeting fraudsters to make sure the money goes to help the talented disabled people who deserve it. I've announced a review into Access to Work to make sure the funding is going to those who need it most.'

Speaking after the case, Johnston claimed the fraud was 'unintentional' and said the couple only pleaded guilty to avoid a lengthy trial.

The DWP says it is committed to having the money returned.

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