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5 Jul 2019

Repeat benefit fraud offender jailed

A woman who wrongly claimed £16,000 worth of benefits has been jailed.

Hayley Mercer previously walked out of court having been convicted of benefit fraud, when she was given a suspended sentence. But six months later she was on the fiddle again, and has now been jailed.

Mercer, 56, pleaded guilty to fraudulently claiming council tax benefit, housing benefit and employment support allowance from 2012 to 2017.

Bristol Crown Court heard she received some £16,000 she was not entitled to.

The bookkeeper, from Bristol, was jailed for 60 weeks, which included 10 weeks of the previously suspended 12-week sentence.

The Recorder of Bristol His Honour Judge Peter Blair QC said: "You are 56 and not in the best of health.

"References speak of you as an honest and trustworthy person; little do they know.

"You are not honest or trustworthy. It seems you regard the public purse as fair game in order to keep you afloat when you find yourself in difficult circumstances.

"You have run out of chances. You made choices and choices come with consequences."

Felicity Payne, prosecuting, said Mercer admitted making some claims in her husband's name.

Matters came to light when employers gave information to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which didn't tally with what Mercer was telling them.

Mercer had seven convictions for 23 previous offences including failure to notify change of circumstances and making false representations.

Daniel Woodman, defending, said Mercer's first husband died suddenly.

He told the court: "He died with significant debt. It transpired he was a heroin user who had been frequenting prostitutes and Class A drugs. That have rise to threats to the family and concerns for their health."

Mr Woodman said his client married again, only for her second husband to die leaving gambling debts.

He said Mercer was earning and would be able to continue making repayments against what she owed.

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