Kayleigh Cooper wept in Portsmouth Crown Court as details of her lies were read out to the judge.
The 25-year-old pleaded guilty to four charges of benefit fraud between 2011 and 2014.
The mum-of-one claimed £16,265 in employment support allowance, £18,926 in housing benefit, and more than £2,000 in council tax benefits – despite having a partner who was working and took a salary that could support her and her child.
But rather than being jailed, she was given an eight-month suspended jail sentence for each of the four fraud charges. The judge spared Cooper an immediate jail term as her child would have to be put into care.
But questions have been raised why Cooper wasn’t given a tougher punishment.
Councillor Donna Jones, Tory leader of Portsmouth City Council, which led the prosecution, said:
It seems a lenient sentence for the crime. Unless you are in the court room, it’s difficult to comment on. But I hope anyone who is convicted of this crime and committed this crime over this length of time in the future would definitely face a jail sentence.Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said:
The sentence will, no doubt, reflect the facts of the crime, but questions must be asked about how and why so much money was handed out over such a long period of time. Taxpayers will rightly demand that the authorities implement better checks to make sure their cash isn’t being given to those who are not entitled it.Laura Jenking-Rees, prosecuting, said: ‘Kayleigh Cooper claimed benefits from 2008 on the basis that she was a single parent. The initial claim was made for employment support benefit. Information came to the office that Ms Cooper was not entitled to these benefits. A full investigation was conducted and showed a number of links between (her boyfriend) and the households of Ms Cooper.’
Condemning Cooper’s actions, Cllr Jones added: ‘This person has committed not only a crime, but a moral crime as she is depriving people who need support.’
The court heard Cooper had several addresses in Portsmouth – including Castle Road and Cuthbert Road – and each time made new claims to the council. She had falsified documents, including tenancies, to make it appear she was living alone.
Simon Moger, defending, said: ‘The defendant takes full responsibility for what she did. She does not seek to blame anybody else.’ He said she was of previous good character and had not been in trouble before with the law. He said she suffers from bipolar disorder and had had post-natal depression.
Repayments of the defrauded money had already started, he said, with more than £1,000 already paid. The repayments were recently increased to £18.50 a week. If this stays the case, it will take her about 39 years to pay back the cash.
Recorder Don Tait said: ‘You set about deliberately claiming benefits you knew you were not entitled to. It went on for a significant period of time. You have heaped problems on yourself because you are now having to repay it.’
Cooper, of Peronne Close, Hilsea, cried and whispered ‘thank you’ to the judge.
This is after three years of calculated benefit theft.
She will be electronically monitored under a curfew order between 8pm and 7am every day. Cooper declined to speak to The News.