A couple who fraudulently claimed more than £80,000 in welfare benefits to pay off their debts have escaped jail terms.
Donna Spence, 49, and Lee Millard, 45, both from Shoebury, claimed a raft of benefits they were not entitled to during a six year period. They failed to declare employment income. Spence was claiming benefits from November 2008, which included money for her partner Millard - who they declared did not have any income.
The Department of Work and Pensions launched an investigation after discovering Millard had, in fact, started full time work on March 1, 2009.
Gordon Collins, from the central operations team, said: “Following an investigation it was established that Lee Millard had started work and Donna Spence had failed to declare this change of circumstances to both the Department of Work and Pensions and Southend Council. It was established that Donna Spence had known that this change had to be reported but did not report the change as she was in debt and wanted the extra money to pay her debts off. It was also established that Lee Millard had known that Donna Spence should have reported the change but encouraged her not to report the change in order to obtain monies that she was not entitled to.“
The couple received £16,672 employment support allowance, £29,059 in income support, £21,108 in Housing benefit and £3,813 council tax benefit they were not owed.
They both pleaded guilty to three counts of benefit fraud by failing to declare a change of circumstances between March 1, 2009 and February 15, 2015 during earlier appearances at Southend Magistrates Court. They have now each been given six month suspended jail sentences at Basildon Crown Court, and have been ordered to undergo 20 days of rehabilitation activity.
Andrew Moring, councillor responsible for corporate and community support in Southend, said: “This is another good example of the joint work that we do with the Department of Work and Pensions to protect the public purse and take action against those committing fraud. Whilst it is quite right that we pay benefits to those that are entitled to them, it is wrong for someone to commit fraud and obtain benefits when they do not qualify for them by holding back information from us.”
Mr Moring added: “Benefit fraud is not a victimless crime. It takes money away from council taxpayers which is not then available to support other vital frontline services such as social care, and we will take appropriate action wherever we find evidence of fraud being committed.”