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22 Sep 2015

£34k benefits cheat jailed

An 'audacious' benefits cheat who fraudulently accepted £34,000 in state handouts while deceitfully hiding £50,000 in 20 undeclared bank accounts has been jailed for one year.

Helen Batchelor, 55, claimed the huge amount in housing and council tax benefit over six years but failed to tell the council about her funds.

The child minder, who works for Hampshire County Council, told 'deliberate lies' which enabled her to 'exploit the benefit system'.

She even had the audacity to ask for a council tax refund of £20 in 2008 and complained about the bedroom tax in 2013, the court heard.

Her 'sophisticated' fraud, which saw her move thousands of pounds in between different bank accounts, was exposed when tax officers flagged up that she earned an unusually high amount of interest.

She prepared a statement in 2014, which read that she had four undeclared bank accounts with a total balance of around £10,000 - below the £16,000 a year threshold she needed to carry on claiming. The court was told Batchelor, of Fareham, actually had up to 20 undeclared bank accounts to the sum of around £50,000 credit.

Batchelor later accepted she was caught out and that she had further money hidden away in other accounts.

Recorder Michael Parroy QC, jailing her for one year, said:
Thousands and thousands and thousands of people in this country deal with the various government departments and local authorities that administer the benefits system. They do that honestly and make honest declarations and receive what they are entitled to. The taxpayers who fund this process by paying tax are entitled to look on with horror at what you have done, because those who dishonestly obtain benefits in this way cheat the system. I have no doubt at all that you embarked upon an absolutely careful, calculated and methodical, and some might say cynical, exploitation of the benefit system.

In each of those five offences, when you applied to the council, you were, to your own knowledge, telling deliberate lies. You were opening and closing bank accounts. You were moving your money around to get the best advantage from it. At the same time you were taking benefits which you knew you were not entitled to.

You even complained about the benefit system and you applied for tax payments.

You were trying to get as much money as you could and then you were squirreling it away hoping it would not get found. If you were not caught, I have no doubt it would have gone on. In that time you took no less than £34,000 to which you were not entitled. It was money which could have gone to other proper claimants, or other public expenses.

You have repaid the monies because you had ample funds to do so. It seems to me there was significant planning and a degree of sophistication used.
She admitted five counts of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit from July 2007 until February 2013.

The court heard the money, which totalled £34,016.64, was repaid in full within a month.

Fareham Borough Council Leader Sean Woodward branded her cheating as 'beyond audacious' and condemned her actions:
It is absolutely scandalous, beyond audacious. She committed a series of outrageous acts out of pure greed. We have zero tolerance of benefit cheats because it is the public's money they are stealing and in this case it was clearly not a mistake as it was a prolonged and intricate fraud.
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