30 Jun 2015

No jail for mum whose £95k benefit fraud was exposed on Facebook

A mother-of-three who claimed to be single was found to be behind a £95,000 benefit fraud – after her Facebook status revealed she was married.

Fraud investigators saw Alison Schooley and her husband were still in a relationship on Facebook.

Checks on their living arrangements revealed his car was parked outside her address. And pictures of family holidays revealed the Schooley's were married.

Schooley faced jail due to the amount she had been overpaid. But Judge Rosalind Coe decided against prison. Schooley left Nottingham Crown Court with an 18-month sentence, suspended for two years.

The ex-pub landlady will be tagged between 7pm and 6am, and will be subject to a home monitoring curfew for four months.

The judge told her: "You have pleaded guilty to these four counts of what is essentially benefit fraud.

"The total amount you defrauded in income support, employment support allowance, housing benefit and council tax, is just in excess of £95,000. This was over a long period of time, beginning in 2006. You understand this is very serious offending and clearly passes the custody threshold."

Schooley's claim began legitimately in 2003 when she a single mum. However, she remained married and reconciled with her husband. She failed to declare to the DWP and Mansfield District Council she was living with him. He was working throughout much of the period, the court heard.

Justin Atkinson, in mitigation, said: "The offences occurred following the breakdown of her relationship with her husband in 2003. She found herself in financial difficulties and claimed benefit. They reconciled. She felt unable to stop claiming benefit. That was enabling them to get by. It is not a case all of the money was used to fund a lavish lifestyle. It was used to support their general living and three children. The fraudulent claim was on the basis she and her husband reconciled. They separated and reconciled during the period, and she thinks she is entitled to some of the money during that period, but she does not feel she had it in her to fight the case. Whilst claiming benefit she was undertaking voluntary work and got a qualification as a counsellor. More recently she has been managing a pub but in the past two weeks she resigned because of what she thinks is the inevitable outcome today."

The 47-year-old, previously of High Street, Tibshelf, Alfreton, pleaded guilty.

She has been living with one her daughters in rented accommodation. "She is hopeful to get other employment, despite her medical difficulties," added Mr Atkinson.

Judge Coe took into account that Schooley was remorseful, accepted responsibility, had repaid £7,000 and would continue to pay off the debt.


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