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30 Apr 2017

Tearful wife admits £30k benefit fraud

A woman told lies about her own and her husband's income so she could pocket more than £30,000 in benefits – lavishing some of the cash on a trip to Australia.

Recruitment consultant Barbara Jones, aged 46, repeatedly submitted false accounts grossly underestimating the household earnings, a court heard. The figures meant she was paid full-rate housing benefit and council tax relief for four years.

Plymouth Crown Court heard that Jones one year estimated the income for herself and her gas and heating engineer husband Andrew as just £10,981 – but in fact it was £38,294.

Handing her a suspended prison sentence, Recorder Jane Rowley said: "Some of the benefits were spent on luxuries such as a trip to Australia. I find that this was lavish expenditure clearly funded by benefits to which you were not entitled."

The court heard that she was already paying back benefits at a rate of £150 per month, which will take 15 years to pay back – though her barrister added she was looking to up that amount.

Jones, from Efford, admitted six charges of making false statements to obtain benefit between 2011 and 2015. She was due to face trial on more serious alternative counts, but prosecutors accepted her pleas to lesser charges. All criminal charges have been dropped against Andrew Jones.

Jason Beal, prosecuting for Plymouth City Council, said the total Barbara Jones was overpaid amounted to £30,575, with more than £25,000 of that in housing benefit.

Mr Beal said that she submitted false accounts which repeatedly and grossly underestimated the couple's income. The defendant was then awarded housing benefit and council tax benefit at the maximum weight. He added that Jones also filled in change of address forms which falsely stated there had been no change in household income – when in fact their earnings were far greater than previously stated. The court heard that one year the couple, who have a daughter, earned £38,294 through work and legitimate benefits. But she submitted accounts for £10,981.

Mr Beal said that Jones was told they were under investigation in June 2015. She submitted new accounts the next day which were closer to the truth, but still underestimated their income. He added that the defendant claimed in interview that the accounts were full of errors and any discrepancies were neither dishonest nor deliberate. But Mr Beal said that the accounts never overestimated their income.

Ali Rafati, for Jones, said that the first accounts she submitted had been honest underestimates of the household income. But she had failed to submit new figures when more money came in. He added that Jones had lost her good name and the prosecution had been hanging over her for two years. Mr Rafati said she had already paid back about £3,500 and hoped to increase the amount of her repayments. He handed in a batch of character references.

Recorder Rowley told Jones: "This was a case of a sophisticated nature with substantial planning. You are a highly capable businesswoman." She added the defendant had taken "responsible steps" to pay back the money.

Jones was handed a ten-week jail term, suspended for 12 months, with 180 hours unpaid work. She must pay £1,000 prosecution costs.

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