11 Jan 2015

Jail for £138k benefit thief

A Wirral mum fraudulently raked in more than £138,000 from the UK taxpayer – while living in Tunisia with her two youngest children. (h/t Dave)

Susan Elaine Flanagan claimed tens of thousands of pounds in benefits between May 2006 and November 2012 on the basis she was living in Prenton, even though she had moved her family to the sunny north African country.

The 56-year-old even set up a blog called “A Brit making a life in Tunisia”, posting on there and on social media about a catering business she had set up.

But she carried on claiming Income Support, Child Benefit and Disability Living Allowance in the UK – and later made additional claims for Employment Support Allowance and Child Tax Credit.

After suspicions were raised in 2012 following a tip-off and her benefits were stopped, she returned to the UK and was arrested.

Investigations showed she had taken her children out of school in 2006 - but when confronted over the blog posts she initially claimed they were “a figment of her imagination”, and said the content couldn’t be relied upon.

Flanagan insisted she only spent eight to 12 weeks at a time in Tunisia where she rented a property and denied doing anything wrong.

It was only after lengthy investigations were carried out by the DWP – including translating stamps on her passport from Arabic and going through her bank account transactions – that she finally admitted her crimes, pleading guilty to five offences of failing to notify a change of circumstance and failing to disclose information.

At Liverpool Crown Court, Philip Astbury, defending, said his client hadn’t been living the “life of Riley” in Africa. But Kevin Slack, prosecuting, said money goes a lot further in Tunisia than in Britain, adding that her blog suggested she ate out at restaurants, had people entertaining at her home and was living “an enjoyable lifestyle”.

The court heard Ms Flanagan – who was in the dock in a mobility scooter – began making legitimate benefit claims in 1993, including disability living allowance on the grounds she had extensive mobility restrictions.

But they became fraudulent in 2006 when she took her two children out of school and moved from her home in Prenton to start a new life in Monastir, Tunisia.

Mr Slack said that over the following six-and-a-half years she continued living in Africa, with a pattern of spending several months to a year there at a time, with occasional return visits to her Prenton home, usually for a week or two before flying back out to Tunisia.

In 2009 she submitted a claim for child tax benefit, filling in a form saying she lived in the UK.

Two years later an Income Support review form was filled in to allow her to continue claiming, which the prosecution said appeared to have been completed by someone else at her request as she was in Tunisia at the time.

In early 2012, Flanagan submitted a further form for Employment Support Allowance, on which she gave her Prenton address but declined to provide a mobile number – and also requested three weeks notice for any face-to-face assessment.

Mr Slack said: “She said she would need that time for a carer to accompany her to an interview. The crown suggests that was to allow her time to come back from Tunisia.”

Defending, Mr Astbury said it was an “unusual” case as she would have been entitled to those benefits if she had been living in the UK, and said it hadn’t been a cynical and calculated plan but something she fell into and let continue. He said his client was a woman of previous good character who was remorseful, and said that due to her chronic medical condition a custodial sentence would be difficult to deal with.

Sentencing, Recorder Paul Reid QC said Flanagan had chosen to abuse the system and enjoy that lifestyle choice with the assistance of benefits she was receiving in the UK, and said the picture her blog painted was of an enjoyable life in Tunisia.

Rejecting the possibility of a suspended sentence, he jailed her for 12 months, reduced from 16 for her guilty pleas.

She was also ordered to pay back £4,000, the only amount available for confiscation, within two months.



Edward Spalton said...

12 months ( which means six) is a very easy tariff. I think fraudsters caught should be sentenced to a stretch equivalent to the time it would take yo work off the debt on the minimum wage - or some other suitably deterrent measure.

John Page said...

Hi Edward

Benefit thieves do it for the money. I think they should have to pay back twice what they stole. They should not be eligible for any benefits until they have, and they should have to do some unpaid work every week until the debt to society is cleared.

Anonymous said...

Hi John They should be made to work , full stop. Never allowed to claim benefits again. Instead she turns up on a mobility scooter. No doubt a new claim for PIP is being processed.

Anonymous said...

She is 56 but started claiming DLA 21 years ago, I find it hard to believe that a 35 year old has mobility problems although I see similar claims on a daily basis.

I doubt she need help getting on or off planes.