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20 Sep 2019

Benefit cheat will have to sell house

A businessman who pocketed thousands of pounds in state handouts while working is currently paying back his ill-gotten gains at a rate which will take him more than 100 years to clear.

Charles Sludden, 63, continued claiming jobseekers allowance and employment support allowance despite doing sub-contracting work for 10 companies, a court heard.

Sludden, from Low Fell, Gateshead, who has a house which is worth more than £500,000, pocketed £33,292 he was not entitled to in a dishonest claim spanning more than four years.

He was rumbled after an anonymous tip-off and pleaded guilty to three benefit fraud charges.

Newcastle Crown Court heard he is currently paying back the money at just £25 a month, although he faces a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing at which he is likely to be ordered to pay back the full amount from his assets.

Jessica Slaughter, prosecuting, said: "The Crown say the defendant failed to disclose to the DWP earnings that he was receiving.

"When claiming jobseekers allowance, the defendant did so on the basis neither he nor his partner had any form of work income, capital or savings.

"When claiming employment support allowance he did so on the grounds of ill health, saying he was incapable of work and that he had no income, capital or savings. Anonymous information was received to suggest he had been working for his own company on a self-employed basis from his home address and suggesting he had undeclared assets."

The court heard an investigation showed he had been working for 10 different companies.

Miss Slaughter told the court: "When interviewed, he reluctantly admitted he had not told the DWP he had been earning money through self-employed sub contracting work."

She added: "The house he lives in is said to be worth £575,000 and there is a timetable to be set in relation to proceeds of crime."

Sludden has so far paid back £100 of the money, the court heard.

He admitted three benefit fraud charges between March 2013 and May 2017 and was sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended for two years with 200 hours unpaid work, a four month night-time curfew and a community order.

Ms Recorder Karaiskos told him: "The offences came to light because of an anonymous tip-off then an investigation ensued which revealed you had been working but failed to disclose that information to the relevant department.

"You are a man of previous good character and you were at one point a successful businessman and fell into financial difficulties.

"You were entitled to claim benefits at the beginning but continued to claim them unlawfully and dishonestly. I'm told you are remorseful and ashamed and so you should be. What example are you setting to your daughters who are now at university?

"The money was not spent on any lavish lifestyle but to pay the bills. You are now currently employed in two different jobs and repaying at £25 a month, it's going to take years to repay that."

Penny Hall, defending, said: "Before these offences, he was a businessman and, it seems, a rather successful businessman and a law-abiding man.

"What led to the offending was difficulties with work. He had believed he had secured a contract which was a significant contract, for which he had spent money to facilitate that contract and obtained credit in order to prepare for that contract.

"It transpired, in fact, the person he had spoken with didn't have the authority to agree that contract so when he invoiced the company he was informed the contract was not agreed and didn't actually exist.

"As a result of that, he lost future work and lost money. He had obtained credit as a result and fell into financial difficulties. That, it seems, led to a downward spiral in his business."

Miss Hall said Sludden had started claiming benefits legitimately at first due to his lack of income.

She added that the contracts he went on to secure while claiming benefits were "minimal" and he was unsure when or if he would get paid from them. The nature of his business was not revealed in court.

Miss Hall told the court: "He accepts he didn't notify the department of that.

"Despite the reference in the pre-sentence report of his main concern being for him, he is someone who is remorseful for his actions and clearly appreciates the effect this type of offending has on the wider community and benefits system. He is ashamed and embarrassed he is before this court.

"He is now employed and is trying to pay the money back to the department, at £25 a month from his income, and he has put his house up for sale."

Source

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