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2 Sep 2019

Benefit authorities nodded through disability claims

A benefit fraudster was branded "wicked and devious" after she lied about being housebound and disabled to claim £62,000 from the taxpayer. (h/t Dave)

Andrea Blackburn, 40, made increasingly extreme claims about debilitating ailments as she took five types of benefits over a five-year period - while holding down a series of jobs.

A judge said she was "staggered" Blackburn was allowed to make the claims without proper investigation.

Blackburn claimed disability living allowance legitimately from 2008, but her swindle started when she had her claim pushed into higher bands in 2012 to 2013.

Teesside Crown Court heard how she claimed she:

  • Was agoraphobic, suffered with nerves, used crutches, could not stand for long periods, struggled to hold things and her hands shook uncontrollably
  • Needed help changing clothes and moving around the house, relied on others, did not go out and needed someone to speak for her
  • Could not answer the door, needed help eating, drinking and getting to the toilet, spent most days in bed and could not communicate
  • Fell several times a day, could barely walk, could not feel her hands, had to drink through a straw and could not cook meals, hold pans or cutlery or turn on a CD player
  • Someone had to reposition her two to three times at night and she could only be left alone for 30 to 60 minutes

In fact, she was working at least 36 hours a week as a customer assistant for Tesco and in Marks & Spencer coffee shop at the time.

Prosecutor Nigel Soppitt said she stopped working for two years then went on to three jobs for Greggs, Tesco and Sainsbury's from 2015.

Duties in her various jobs included preparing hot food, cleaning and clearing tables, operating a dishwasher and replacing stock on a wines and spirits aisle.

She claimed other benefits, saying she could not shower, was too weak to stand and had incontinence problems.

She threw up a "smokescreen" that she was confused and could not understand or answer questions when interviewed, said Mr Soppitt. "It seems they've simply accepted it at face value."

Investigators saw her driving her own car, after claiming she could not drive, as her deceit came to light in 2017.

In total, she wrongly claimed £62,640 in disability living allowance, housing benefit, incapacity benefit, employment and support allowance and personal independence payments between 2011 and 2016.

Blackburn, from Thornaby , admitted six charges of benefit fraud.

Damian Sabino, defending, said Blackburn gave a "worst-case scenario" and understood she did wrong but "buried her head in the sand".

He said the offending was unsophisticated: "This was never going to work. It was always going to be a matter of time."

This is an excuse?

He said the mum-of-eight did have genuine ailments including carpal tunnel syndrome, for which she had surgery in 2012 and 2015.

"They don't account for the versions persistently presented in claim forms," he added.

"She accepts responsibility for her offending. There was no lavish lifestyle, no holidays, no flash cars, no evidence of high living. She was living in a council rented property, paid bedroom tax and had a 10-year-old car. It's clear she doesn't manage money well. Over the years she has been left in debt by former lovers. She was perhaps an easy target."

He said she had the investigation hung over her for two-and-a-half years, and a consultant psychiatrist found she had anxiety and depression.

He said she was vulnerable, "did not have a good start in life", was seeing a psychotherapist and an early intervention team and found it difficult to explore emotional trauma.

He added she had repaid just over £1,200 of the money and had a new job starting on Monday.

Mr Sabino argued jailing her would impact on her children, cost her her home and halt a three-year plan designed to "get people out of the pit".

"I think her relationship with reality is a journey," he told the court. "These proceedings have brought her closer to reality than she has been before."

The judge described the crimes as "grossly fraudulent" and "particularly wicked and devious" during the hearing.

She said: "This is a lady who has presented to the authorities that she was effectively housebound, immobile and severely disabled, and yet she's holding down three jobs."

Sentencing, she told Blackburn: "You duped the Department for Work and Pensions and Stockton Borough Council into paying you a total of £62,640. Falsely claiming you were suffering from a host of medical ailments of increasing severity. You are a devious wicked woman."

He accepted she had difficulties in childhood and adulthood, and some real medical complaints and problems.

"But they are not to such a degree of severity that they entitle you to receive these monies," the judge continued.

"This is in my view a very serious offence. It is staggering that you were able to pull this off.

"It is unbelievable that the authorities did not properly investigate your medical claims. I'm told that the system that operated at the time no longer exists.

"You are fully to blame. You are a thoroughly dishonest woman. There are people in this country that suffer from genuine disabilities, genuine illnesses, and who need the support.

"You have come within a whisker of going to prison today."

Given her efforts to repay, the judge gave her a 10-month jail term suspended for 18 months with 150 hours' unpaid work, 20 days' rehabilitation activity and £600 costs.

Source with unedifying pictures

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