A social worker who helped her boyfriend falsely claim £15,000 in benefits by saying he was her lodger was caught out - when she changed her Facebook status to ‘in a relationship’. (h/t a reader)
Sarah Jones, 38, posted on the social media site that she was dating construction worker Daniel Nolan and added a photograph of them together as her profile picture. But it was spotted by investigators checking housing benefit claims by 40-year old Nolan who insisted in applications he was single and had no income.
It emerged the couple had been in a relationship since 2008.
He made six separate claims for jobseekers' allowance and housing benefits over four years after being made redundant.
The pair shared Jones’ £130,000 semi-detached home in Flixton and investigations revealed Jones lied on a tenancy agreement needed by Nolan to claim for benefits, stating she was the homeowner and he was merely the tenant.
An investigation was launched by Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council – the very same authority which employed Jones – when they became suspicious about a shortfall between Nolan’s entitlement to benefit and his rent figure.
When he failed to provide bank statements, investigators obtained them anyway and discovered that rather than making regular payments to his ‘landlady’, Jones had been making payments to him.
They also discovered that on a Trafford Council website, Jones listed Nolan as her boyfriend.
When officials from the Department for Work and Pensions and Greater Manchester Police went to search their home in March last year, they were informed by a lodger that the pair were on a weekend break together and Nolan had lived at the house for five years.
The total amount of benefits swindled was £15,725.55. Jones has since lost her job.
At Minshull Street Crown Court, Nolan - now a self employed plumber - pleaded guilty to six counts of dishonestly making a false statement to claim benefits and was handed a six month prison sentence suspended for two years. He was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and given an electronically-monitored curfew to run for three months between 8pm and 6.30am.
Jones admitted producing a false document and was handed a conditional discharge and was ordered to pay £940 in prosecution costs.
Lawyers for Nolan handed forward a string of references from high-flying friends, including a senior prison officer at HMP Manchester, ‘respected’ bosses in the construction industry and the CEO of the largest insurance company in South East Asia.
Prosecuting, Philip Barnes said: “He was claiming housing benefit on a property he shared with his co-defendant and she owned without declaring he was in a relationship with her as landlord. On his jobseekers form he was declared to be a single male, without reference to a partner, work, income, or her presence at home. Sarah Jones was named on the claim form for housing benefit as his landlady under the terms of commercial tenancy where he was the tenant at Victoria Road in Flixton. The Crown say there was an intimate relationship and there had been for many years.
“Sarah Jones was employed by Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council as a Young Person Social Worker. The authorities investigated when it became apparent there was a shortfall between the entitlement to benefit and the rent figure.
“They asked him to provide bank statements. He didn’t do so, so they were obtained through other means. It failed to show regular payments between Mr Nolan and his co-defendant contrary to the basis of the relationship. In fact, there were credits from Sarah Jones to Daniel Nolan.
“Further investigations showed that on a Trafford Council website she said he was her boyfriend and also it was stated on Facebook since 2008. The housing benefit was fraud from the off. He had never been entitled to the benefit.”
On behalf of Nolan, Joseph Kotrie-Monson said: “I ask for credit for his otherwise exemplary character. I use the phrase exemplary because quite unusually we have references from a senior prison officer at Strangeways. He is regarded as someone going out on a limb for a friend. There are statements from close friends and peers. He is highly respected in the construction industry. We have one from the CEO of the largest insurance firm in South East Asia. They are his best friends.”
Sentencing Judge Mushtaq Khokar urged Jones to get back to working in social care and added: “I don’t think you would be here if it wasn’t for Daniel Nolan. A very, very small part you played in the execution of the tenancy agreement which was to be produced by Nolan to the local authority. You knew what was going on but were simply too loyal to refuse and you have paid a heavy price.”
Addressing Nolan, he added: “This was a prolonged period of offending, persistently claiming benefits dishonestly. The fact that there were debts and domestic bills doesn’t matter. The majority of people resolve this by lawful means, they don’t resort to committing offences, robbing Peter to pay someone else like you did.
“There is no doubt in all other respects you are law-abiding, conscientious and caring but this is a serious piece of offending. The whole system is there to help the needy people who genuinely need help as they haven’t got any money.
“And while I sympathise with you being made redundant, it’s not for the likes of you to claim money in the manner you claimed. That means there is a smaller amount left for the needy ones. It is fraud against the community.”
They go public with their relationship because they feel sure they won't get caught.