14 Mar 2018

Suspended sentence for £80k over-claim

A woman's “creditable” character helped save her from prison for a £80,000, 12-year benefit fraud.

A Teesside judge said it was “a terribly sad thing” to see 62-year-old Gillian Edwards in the dock for the first time in her life.

He said he would not jail the education worker, who has paid back all the money she wrongly took from the public purse for over a decade.

She inadvertently landed herself in trouble by telling the truth to the authorities, then had the court case hanging over her head for years, Teesside Crown Court heard today.

She started claiming benefits genuinely as a widow with three children, but did not declare she had started living with a new partner.

She was overpaid £80,954 by the Department for Work and Pensions in widowed mother’s allowance and widow’s pension between November 2002 and October 2014.

Edwards ended her claim with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2014 when she declared she bought a house with her partner.

The information she gave herself kick-started an investigation which took four years to come to court.

Prosecutor Jon Harley said: “The Crown are glad to confirm that she has repaid all of the overpayment."

Edwards, from Stockton , admitted two counts of failing to notify the authorities of a change in circumstances affecting benefits.

She explained she did not regard her and her partner as formally together until they bought a house.

She had never been in trouble before the two offences, for which she faced a possible jail term of up to two-and-a-half years.

Alex Bousfield, defending, said Edwards had held down a job providing support for people with special needs, and came to court with a bundle of references.

He said: “Clearly a lot of people have thought a lot of her over the years. She’s done a lot of good work for a lot of people, and is not inherently a nasty or vindictive or problematic person in any way. She has done everything she can to put matters right.

“It’s an enormous sum of money to find in a short period of time. It’s not been possible without the help of her partner, who has been able to put those funds in place. Had the department known of the situation, there may have been money due to her.

“It’s not that she’s been caught out. She has informed the department that the relationship has been completely formalised financially. She told them and they’ve carried out an investigation. It was in the past so far as she was concerned. It’s been all-encompassing. It’s caused enormous anxiety.”

The judge, Recorder Euan Duff QC, told Edwards she started her claims legitimately but ended up defrauding the public purse.

Apart from this huge blemish on her character, he said, “You’ve quite clearly led a perfectly respectable proper life doing very good work for other people. What is hugely significant in this case is that the totality of the public money paid to you has been repaid. Ultimately the public have got back the money which they ought not to have been deprived of in the first place. I tell you straight away you are not going immediately to prison today.”

He gave Edwards an eight-month jail term suspended for 18 months.

He added: “I’m perfectly sure that you will resume the creditable life which you’ve led. I’m perfectly sure you’ll not be back again.”


No comments: