18 Jan 2019

£1m housing benefit fraud

A gang of housing benefit assessors who used dummy claimants to defraud the taxpayer of £1 million are facing jail.

Menelik Cowan, 37, and six other council workers paid the cash into bank accounts opened with false passports.

Lambeth, Kingston, and Barking and Dagenham Councils were cheated out of more than £1m in the decade-long fraud which ran between 2006 and 2016.

Cowan, his then girlfriend Natasha Francis, 38, his brother Hugh Small, 39, Cassandra Johnson, 38, Jessica Bartley, 35, Rahel Asfaha, 36, and Alexander Williams, 39, were working for the local authorities at the time.

Jurors at Southwark Crown Court convicted the seven of various charges of fraud and money laundering after a trial lasting more than three months.

Gareth Munday, prosecuting, had told jurors how the assessors put through a vast number of false claims using fake identities.

He described the scam as a ‘fraudulent business on a grand scale and against the public purse, in particular against local housing benefits offices.

‘When I say it is a business, that is exactly what this was. This was an organised crime conducted in a businesslike fashion.’

He said two other alleged fraudsters, Bashiru Tahiru and Elaine Agyemang, had absconded before they could face justice.

‘They are not here for trial because they are not in this jurisdiction – they have run away.’

The pair took their cut and diverted cash back to the council workers, and others including Alexander Williams’ uncle Derrick Williams and Donna Francis, the court heard.

‘Donna Francis and Derek Williams…received monies into their bank accounts.

‘There is largely no dispute that the claims in this case, the claims that were processed by the seven housing assessors, that they were false, that they were fraudulent.

‘These defendants were uniquely placed to take advantage of their knowledge of the system and their access to the system in order to breach the trust of the local authorities.

‘They were processing false claims, essentially for their own profit,’ said Mr Munday.

‘Mr Cowan is a link between Elaine Agyemang and Bashiru Tahiru. He was, at the time of these allegations, the partner of Natasha Francis.’

The prosecutor said police discovered text messages between Cowan and Tahiru discussing the council’s claimant processing system.

Cowan, who worked for Lambeth Council, had texted Tahiru: ‘Make them work for sixteen hours per week, earning between 60 and 70 pounds per week.’

Mr Munday said: ‘So he’s providing the amount these claimants have to say they are paid. Why would a legitimate housing officer have to tell them?’

The texts continue: ‘Make them text me when they get to the office and get them to go to reception.’

Normally claimants are given a ticket when they attend the housing benefits office and a number is called out when it is their turn.

In the texts, Cowan instructs Tahiru’s fake claimant to ignore the ticket and to, ‘tell them to stay seated until I text them.’

Cowan would then lead the fake claimant to a booth to carry out the assessment himself.

The prosecutor said: ‘Mr Cowan was subverting to ensure that Agyemang and Tahiru were coming before his eyes so that he could process the false claims and not other people. How is that anything other than fraudulent?’

He explained that texts also showed how Cowan was divulging address and salary information to Tahiru.

‘There can be no reason why Mr Cowan would be finding or providing address details for Mr Tahiru, certainly not to speed up legitimate claims because surely a claimant with a legitimate claim are acquainted with their own address.

‘There can be no reason for Mr Cowan to be providing Mr Tahiru with crib answers for legitimate claims – there is no legitimate reason because legitimate claimants wouldn’t need to be reminded what their employer is paying them.

‘The issue in Mr Cowan’s case is was he aware that these claims were fraudulent? His friendship with Agyemang and Tahiru shows that he was part and parcel with Agyemang and Tahiru.’

The prosecutor said Agyemang and Tahiru were paying Cowan around £500 a week at one point.

When Cowan’s home was searched, police found a number of documents hidden in his kitchen, including a tenancy agreement in a black rucksack, relating to another scam.

The prosecutor said other documents were found under an electric heater in the kitchen and on a computer in Cowan’s home.

‘The evidence is, therefore, that he was keeping all of this fraudulent material together,’ said the prosecutor.

‘It is clear that he was keeping the dishonest material all in one place. The reason that he was doing all of this was that he was aware of the nature of the claims he was processing,’ said Mr Munday.

Sentencing will be at Southwark Crown Court on 18 March.

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17 Jan 2019

Benefit cheat hid wife's job to claim £23k

A Derby benefits cheat illegally claimed more than £23,000 over a three-year period by lying about his wife's employment status.

Derby Crown Court heard how Goran Sarbast continued to receive both Jobseeker’s Allowance and housing benefit despite his wife holding down a full-time job.

Now the Department for Work and Pensions is to recover the cash.

Christopher Jeyes, prosecuting, said that, between July 2014 and April 2017, the 46-year-old, of Alvaston, took a total of £23,144 from the state which he was not entitled to.

When the fraud was discovered he made full admissions to the investigators that he knew what he did was wrong. But, when it came to court, Sarbast denied the charge and took it to trial.

He was found guilty of two counts of benefit fraud and he was sent to the crown court for sentencing.

Mr Jeyes said: “This was fraudulent from the outset. In July 2014, he put in a claim for JSA for himself, his wife and his child, declaring that his wife’s employment had ended. But this was untrue because she started work in September 2009 and remained in employment throughout the duration of the claim. The JSA claim meant that he was also eligible for housing benefit and, between the dates in the indictment, more than £16,000 in JSA was paid out along with almost £7,000 in housing benefit. In his interview, he largely accepted that he failed to declare the truth, saying he did this because his family could not pay the bills without it (the benefits).

“There is in place a civil process for the recovery of the money.”

Judge Shaun Smith QC told Digby Johnson, Sarbast’s solicitor: “It’s unfortunate he decided to have a trial at the magistrates’ court but I feel there may be some explanation for that. There is a recommendation in his pre-sentence report for a community order and I feel this is what this merits.”

Mr Johnson replied: “There’s nothing I want to add.”

Judge Smith then told Sarbast, “You are 46 years of age and you have never been in trouble before. I have read that you are a man that likes to work and is not a shirker but unfortunately you decided to take advantage of the system we have here for people that can’t afford certain things.

“You admitted that but then you decided to have a trial at the magistrates’ court. I am going to put that down to language and your understanding of the legal system rather than anything else. The reality is that you need to pay a debt to the community and that is what you will do.”

Judge Smith handed Sarbast a 12-month community order with 180 hours unpaid work.

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14 Jan 2019

HMRC officer in tax credit fraud

An HMRC officer abused her position to fraudulently claim £18,000 in tax credits after lying about her marriage break-up. (h/t Dave)

Tracey Griffiths used the cash for £3,000 cosmetic surgery, a new car and several expensive holidays.

Griffiths, aged 37, from Wordsley, Dudley, lied about a marriage break up and claimed the benefits as a single person between 2014 and 2016.

She was handed a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months at Warwick Crown Court.

She was also ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work. She had been found guilty of fraudulently claiming £18,863.61 of tax credits on or between February 2014 and April 2016.

Griffiths, who worked for HMRC during the two-year fraud, claimed to have separated from her husband in February 2014.

But she was still living with him in Kingswinford, they had been on holiday together seven times and they both posted messages on Facebook to celebrate their first wedding anniversary in September 2014.

The couple’s finances also ran in tandem and Mr Griffiths had bought his wife a car and paid £3,000 for her to have cosmetic surgery.

Adrian De Ath, Assistant Director, Internal Governance, HMRC, said: “This was a gross breach of trust. Griffiths exploited her position and used her detailed knowledge of the tax credits system to claim money she knew she was not entitled to. Corruption amongst our staff is rare and will not be tolerated. HMRC expects the very highest standards of behaviour from all staff. There is no place within HMRC for criminals like Griffiths. We will now work hard to recover the proceeds of her crime.”

Griffiths had worked for HMRC since 2002 and was working at an office in Wolverhampton. She had an in depth knowledge of tax credits, having previously worked as a tax credits compliance officer.

She was dismissed from HMRC in May 2017 and found guilty on November 23 2018 following a trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court.

In sentencing her at Warwick Crown Court, Judge Peter Cooke said: “Over a protracted period of time through thorough dishonesty and an inside knowledge of the tax credit system you inflated your household income through fraud. The evidence was clear and compelling. What was also pretty compelling is that a good chunk of that surplus was spent of foreign holidays, which you could not have afforded on your legitimate income. You wanted a better lifestyle and you have shown no hint of remorse.”

Griffiths was handed a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. She was also ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work.

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9 Jan 2019

Illegal sub-letting brings heavy penalties

A "despicable" fraudster must pay £42,000 after illegally subletting her council flat for more than 10 years.

Pfavai McNab, a hair and beauty salon owner from Southampton, received a two-year suspended prison sentence at Woolwich Crown Court after she was convicted of two charges under the Fraud Act in relation to the three-bedroom flat in Plumstead.

Known as Pfavai Chidavaenzi when she obtained the property in Barnfield Gardens in 1996, she subsequently married and moved to Southampton.

In 2017, under her former name, she submitted an application under the Right to Buy scheme to purchase the property from Greenwich Council, declaring it as her only and principal home, for which she would have received a £103,900 discount off the purchase price.

Council checks revealed she had married in April 2000, was living under her married name of McNab and had purchased a home in Southampton.

Further checks revealed she had left her daughter occupying the flat since at least 2007 and had also set up her own hair and beauty salon on the south coast.

As well as the suspended prison sentence, McNab must also undertake 100 hours of unpaid work.

She was also ordered to pay the council £35,000 within two years relating to the financial loss suffered by the council for having to provide emergency accommodation due to flat not being available for others in genuine need.

She must further pay the council's legal costs of £6,920 within six months. If she fails to do so, she will go to prison for one year.

Councillor Christine Grice, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “Mrs McNab was caught out by her own greed when she applied to buy the council property, and her many years of not residing at the three-bedroom flat were identified. She has evaded prison. However, I hope that the £42,000 she now has to pay Greenwich will be a good reminder of her despicable actions.”


8 Jan 2019

Recidivist gets suspended sentence for £60k benefit fraud

A self-employed welder who claimed he needed help to wash, dress, and eat travelled to Tenerife to visit friends while fraudulently claiming more than £60,000 in benefits.

Brett Jones claimed disability and housing benefits after saying he had health conditions including arthritis, bipolar disorder, and diabetes – then went to work in Indonesia.

When he was interviewed the 45-year-old told investigators: “I’ve screwed up.”

Newport Crown Court heard the total overpayment was £62,060.70 over a three-year period.

Suzanne Payne, prosecuting, said the defendant fraudulently claimed about £17,000 in Personal Independence Payment, £32,000 in Employment and Support Allowance, and £13,000 in Housing Benefit.

She said his claims were justified when he initially made them but he subsequently failed to declare an improvement in his physical condition and the fact he was working.

Jones said he had medical conditions including arthritis, bipolar disorder, diabetes, crumbling joints, a torn bicep and nerve damage. He ticked boxes to say he required help to eat, drink, wash, dress, use the toilet and communicate.

Investigators found he had been self-employed and trading under the name Advance Metal Fabrications. The invoices he submitted totalled more than £180,000. They also found he had been working abroad in Jakarta as well as travelling to see friends in Tenerife.

During his interview in August 2017 Jones said: “When I made the claims I was in a bad way.” He added: “I’ve screwed up.”

Prosecutors said he had a previous conviction for theft dating back to 1992 and a caution for handling stolen goods in 2010. His most recent conviction was for drink-driving.

Ms Payne said the prosecution would not be making an application under the Proceeds of Crime Act as he had “no assets”.

Jones, from Cwmbran, admitted three counts of benefit fraud.

Rosamund Rutter, defending, said her client did not have any relevant previous convictions and the claim was not fraudulent from the outset. She said he was currently working and a re-payment plan was put in place last summer. He has already paid back £330.40. (!)

Ms Rutter drew the judge’s attention to references from the defendant’s mother and his GP, who outlined his medical conditions. She asked for any jail term to be suspended rather than immediate.

She added: “He is remorseful and ashamed of what he has done.”

The defence barrister highlighted the fact the case had been “hanging over him” for 16 months due to unexplained delays.

In his sentencing remarks Recorder Timothy Brennan QC said: “You continued through greed to claim money to which you were not entitled. You spent it on other things like trips to see your friends in Tenerife.”

The judge described his criminal record as “dismal”. He told Jones he could have used the 16-month delay to repay the money but noted he had so far only paid back around £300.

Jones was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months. He was ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work and pay £400 in costs.


7 Jan 2019

Benefit cheat weeps throughout hearing

A benefit cheat who illegally claimed more than £10,000 while working at a care home broke down in tears as she was sentenced.

Jodie Watson claimed she had a bad back and required medical treatment, a court heard.

The 31-year-old initially made a legitimate Personal Independence Payment claim, citing medication for a prolapsed disc.

The benefit can be claimed by people in work.

But due to the scoring system, Watson's solicitor admitted: "She probably wouldn't have been entitled to it at the time she returned to work."

Watson was charged after a DWP investigator received a tip-off about her situation.

At North Tyneside Magistrates' Court, she pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing to notify about a change in circumstances.

The court heard she claimed the cash over a 17 month period between 2016 and 2017.

The prosecutor said: "She was aware she must inform of any changes about her circumstances", adding Watson took a "significant" sum.

However her solicitor argued that in the context of benefit fraud, the amount "wasn't excessive".

"This is a case which is a little bit unfortunate," he added. "The defendant in this case made a legitimate claim initially."

The court heard Watson now has "much better movement and control" than at the time of her claim after taking medication.

Watson, from Sunderland, wept throughout the hearing as magistrates warned her she faced up to 36 weeks in prison. But after hearing she was "remorseful" for her actions, the bench instead ordered her to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

Chair of the bench Gordon Wanless said: "It is the public purse that you defrauded."


6 Jan 2019

Man admits benefit fraud

A 52 year old man has avoided jail after pleading guilty to committing benefit fraud.

Peter Brown, from Darwen, admitted six charges of dishonesty in which he failed to notify the Department of Work and Pensions and Blackburn with Darwen Council about a change to his employment status.

At the hearing at Burnley Magistrates Court, Neil White, prosecuting, said that between 2014 and 2017, Brown had continued to claim benefits, including income support, housing benefit, employment support allowance and job seekers' allowance, as well as falsely claiming carers' allowance, despite being in receipt of a wage from paid employment.

The benefits claimed amounted to a total of £11,938.94.

The court heard that Brown had believed he was entitled to still claim the benefits providing he undertook no more than two days of paid work per week, but when his employment status changed he failed to disclose this information to the relevant authorities and continued to claim the full amount.

Mr White said: “He should have disclosed his employment status to the DWP but when filling out his forms he did not do this. He accepts that he had been working, and says he misunderstood the forms. I believe the claims did not begin as fraudulent but when he found himself with more work than allowed on these benefits, that’s what it turned into.”

Defending, Duncan Nightingale said his client was of good character and had no previous convictions and had been confused by the paperwork and the change in the benefits system as time had gone by.

“His belief was that he was allowed to work two days a week without having to disclose the information, but when he sometimes worked more than this he failed to inform the DWP.”

Mr Nightingale asked the court to be lenient, saying given the circumstances and his guilty plea, Brown should not be given a custodial sentence.

He was handed a 12-month community order, and ordered to carry out 30 hours' unpaid work.


31 Dec 2018

Councils 'failing' to prosecute blue badge abusers

A disability charity says it is "disgraceful" councils are failing take action against people misusing blue-badge parking permits.

Analysis by the Press Association found 94 out of 152 (62%) local authorities in England did not pursue anyone for abusing the scheme in 2017-18.

Phil Talbot, from charity Scope, said thefts of disabled permits were rising.

The Local Government Association said councils had to take "tough decisions" on enforcement with limited resources.

Mr Talbot added: "Stealing blue badges isn't a crime without consequences. They are a vital lifeline for those who genuinely need them."

The analysis of the Department of Transport data showed the number of blue badges reported stolen totalled 4,246. It found 31 councils did not catch anyone despite claiming to have a policy for prosecuting offenders.

Local authorities in Nottingham, Middlesbrough, Shropshire, Luton, Milton Keynes, Bournemouth and Reading were among those to record zero prosecutions.

Martin Tett, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said gathering evidence and mounting a prosecution could be "time-consuming and expensive".

Almost every case involving the 1,215 prosecutions across the country involved drivers using someone else's blue badge.

The permits allow holders to park for free in pay and display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines, except for where there are restrictions. Holders in London are exempt from the congestion charge.

The largest number of prosecutions were made by the London boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham (137) and Newham (88), with Leeds (78) in third place.

Mr Tett claimed the disparity in enforcement levels across England was likely to reflect "different levels of pressures on available parking".


Merseyside's worst benefits cheats 2018

In 2018, benefit cheats, who swindled the public purse out of hundreds of thousands of pounds, were caught and then exposed once they'd gone to court. Often, they had got away with their fraud for years, but justice finally caught up with them, this year. (h/t Dave)

Cheryl Prudham - the former Skelmersdale “Benefits Queen", in January narrowly avoided prison for stealing thousands of pounds from parking meters. It followed the jailing of her ex-boyfriend Robert Prudham, who was locked up for 14 months for theft and fraud offences.

The mum-of-12 was instead handed a suspended sentence after she admitted spending more than £2,200 of stolen cash on an all-inclusive holiday for herself, her kids and her former partner Robert.

Prudham, 34, and who used to live in Skelmersdale, and now has an address in Warrington, got four months jail, suspended for two years, plus a 35-day rehabilitation activity requirement. A judge told her she would have served a jail sentence had she not pleaded guilty.

Cheryl handled £2,241 of the £4,787 her ex-partner Robert admitted siphoning off while working as a money collector, having obtained the job by fraud.

The holiday, for which she paid £7,671, was to Victoria Playa in Santo Tomas, flying from Gatwick Airport on May 16 2014. Her barrister described his client as “deeply ashamed.”

Cheryl appeared on Channel 5 documentary ‘Benefits: Britain’s Most Shameless Mum”, making national headlines in 2015 when it emerged she claims £40,000 a year in benefits. She then appeared on This Morning to appeal for a sperm donor and faced some hard questions from ITV presenter Holly Willoughby who asked her how she slept at night knowing she was receiving so much in benefits.

Cheryl previously admitted she is addicted to getting pregnant, saying she finds men too much hard work after her spouse of six years admitted cheating in a threesome involving his cousin. It was also reported how Cheryl was planning to spend £4,000 on a boob job at Liverpool’s MYA Cosmetic Surgery Clinic, boosting her from a B cup to a 34D. Those cosmetic surgery plans were put on hold, she said, after she went public with her plans to get a boob job and a tummy-tuck using spare cash.

John and Marie Lee cheated the benefits system out of £54,000 and spent the cash on luxury holidays including a trip to Barbados - but they walked free from court. The couple, who were divorced, did not reveal they had moved back in together to the Department for Work and Pensions.

The pair, both aged 70 and from Stockbridge Village, squandered thousands of pounds in tax and pension credits on luxury holidays in Tenerife and Barbados.

Liverpool Crown Court was told they began living together again after he was diagnosed with cancer.

The court heard John received Disability Living Allowance claiming he could barely walk but did not report that his health had improved and he also had savings above the permitted limit.

Detailing the thousands of pounds spent on family holidays in Tenerife and Barbados, David Polglase, prosecuting, pointed out: “They were not living like church mice.”

He said that by not revealing that the couple were co-habiting Marie was overpaid £15,578 tax credits over about five years but he accepted that the claim had not been fraudulent from the start. Her ex-husband’s claim for DLA was also not fraudulent from the beginning but became so when he failed to reveal an improvement in his health.

His claim for pension credits was always fraudulent as he kept quiet about his savings, said Mr Polglase. John, whose claims together involved an over-payment of £39,234, had an Isle of Man bank account in which he was found to have £33,000 savings. The court heard that he had worked off-shore and at one time had £100,000 in that account but he gave that away to relatives when diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.

His wife began receiving tax credits in July 2006 by claiming she was single and only worked a certain amount of hours with a plastics company, said Mr Polglase. She renewed the claim in subsequent years despite the fact that her husband was now back living with her.

John started claiming pension credits in November 2008 saying he was unwell and had no partner and earlier that year he had began receiving higher rate DLA on grounds he could barely walk and needed assistance. He repeated his claims about his mobility in October 2012 and also said that he had cancer and other health issues.

When DWP investigators called at the couple’s two-bedroomed home in Stockbridge Village, in February 2016, they found one bedroom was being used as his office and there was evidence they were sharing the other bedroom. He claimed he had been sleeping on a couch in the conservatory but there was no evidence of that.

The investigators found insurance policies in both their names and a total of £16,000 had been spent on three foreign holiday bookings between 2011 and 2104.

Judge Robert Trevor-Jones sentenced her to six months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered her to carry out 200 hours unpaid work. John was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months and was ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work and ten days rehabilitation activities.

Mum-of-four Nicola Shaw who stole nearly £50,000 of tax credits while working for HMRC was spared jail – because of her children.

The 37-year-old was an administrative officer in the government department’s “claimant compliance team” benefits section. Her job involved claim investigations and sending out forms so claimants could notify the taxman if their circumstances changed. But for six years Shaw pretended to be a single mum after her ex-partner moved back into their Wirral home and they married.

Judge Andrew Menary, QC, today said: “The claim document makes crystal clear that you were obliged to report that fact. The public, reading of this case, would be horrified to discover that somebody occupying that position would have behaved in the way you did. It means you knew full well what your responsibilities were.”

Liverpool Crown Court heard Shaw started a relationship with her ex-partner Richard Hamblett in 1997 and joined HMRC in 1999. David Watson, prosecuting, said the couple bought a house in Caldy Road, West Kirby in 2003 and had their first child in 2004.

They made a legitimate joint tax credit claim in July 2004, before phoning HMRC in November to say Mr Hamblett had moved out. Shaw made a second, initially legitimate claim on December 1, 2004 – stating she was a single mum – which ran until April 6, 2015.

She was required to inform HMRC of any change in circumstances within 30 days and to return an annual declaration form. The benefit cheat falsely completed these annual forms and failed to respond to 39 separate “award notice” checklist letters. The mum, who has no previous convictions, admitted fraud on the first day of a trial on February 12.

However, in a pre-sentence report, she claimed she thought HMRC would have been aware of her position because her name changed. Shaw cried in the dock when Judge Menary said she was “not a good role model for her children”. He criticised her “continued pretence that she had no idea there was a great responsibility on her to report these things”.

Judge Menary handed Shaw seven months in jail, suspended for two years, plus 150 hours of unpaid work and a 15-day rehabilitation activity requirement.

Liverpool couple Bernard Knutsen, 69, and his wife Maureen, 63, who dodged tax and swindled benefits to fund a luxury lifestyle, were ordered to repay £355,000. The pair ran Chaplin's bar on Lodge Lane in Toxteth and a car garage in the city.

Pictures reveal wads of cash found at their home that they used to fund their expensive tastes and jet-settling high-life. The couple’s tax-dodging scheme also netted them many foreign holidays.

They were jailed for a total of seven years for tax and benefit fraud. At a confiscation hearing led by HMRC at Liverpool Crown Court on October 4, Bernard Knutsen was ordered to repay £323,195 within three months or spend another three years behind bars.

£76,459 of this will be paid as compensation to the DWP. Maureen Knutsen must repay £32,929 within three months or face another year in prison.

A search of their home uncovered a wealth of jewellery, including Rolex watches and Royal Mint gold sovereign coins, as well as bundles of cash totalling almost £40,000 stashed in handbags. Investigators also found that the couple had a £50,000 endowment policy, and had placed £20,000 into the bank accounts of their grandchildren.

The couple’s daughter Kelly Knutsen, 39, who was sentenced to 21 months, suspended for two years, for her involvement in the fraud, has been ordered to repay £5,010 within 28 days or face three months in jail. Kelly Knutsen received unexplained money from both businesses into her bank account and owned a £4,000 Rolex watch. She also claimed benefit to cover her rent but failed to declare a second property she owned and rented out.

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26 Dec 2018

Benefit fraudster told council she was single

A benefit cheat illegally pocketed more than £10,000 after telling a council she was single.

Laura Iredale claimed the housing benefit for more than two years from Newcastle City Council.

The 30-year-old has now been ordered to wear an electronic tag after she admitted benefit fraud.

North Tyneside Magistrates' Court heard Iredale made her claim when she was single and working part-time.

Prosecutor Ami Dodd said: "After claiming the housing benefit she failed to declare her partner had moved in with her and that she was in full-time employment. The claim was not fraudulent from the outset but the failure to declare put it in that category."

In total, £10,287 was illegally claimed between 2014 and 2016.

The court heard Iredale's relationship had "substantial up and downs" at the start but that they had now married.

Prosecutors said Iredale recognised "the point" they had agreed to marry was when she should have amended her claim, with her partner stopping at least one night a week.

The court heard Iredale, of Warwick Road, Newcastle, is now repaying the cash to the council.

Her solicitor added: "She's never been in trouble previous and I'm fairly sure she won't be in trouble in the future."

District Judge Bernard Beggley handed Iredale a six month curfew. She was also ordered to pay £85 in costs and an £85 charge.

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