Near jail experience for the 23 year old benefits cheat who kept stum about �50,000 inheritance
A WOMAN who fraudulently claimed more than �15,000 in benefits despite having been left more than �50,000 in her father’s will has been given a suspended jail sentence.
Donna Smith, 23, from County Road, March had claimed Housing Benefit, Council Tax benefit and Income Support as a single parent from January 2009 following the birth of her first child.
Her fraud was discovered after a lengthy investigation by Fenland District Council and the Department for Work & Pensions.
It dated back to July 2009, when she was left about �53,000 by her late father. A few days later she reported a change in her circumstances to the council, saying she had been left only �1,133.
In April 2010, following an anonymous tip-off about the true size of Miss Smith’s inheritance, the council launched its investigation. That led to all her Housing Benefit & Council Tax Benefit claims being suspended in December 2010.
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In March this year she finally confessed the full extent of her fraud. She confessed that she knew about the rules governing benefit claims and admitted that she had been left about �53,000 by her late father in July 2009.
She had transferred �49,000 into her mother’s account and put �3,000 into a new account for her son. She confirmed then that she still had about �35,000.
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She has subsequently paid back all the money she owed to Fenland District Council.
Peterborough magistrates sentenced her to 12 weeks in jail, suspended for 12 months. A three-month curfew was also imposed, restricting her to her house from 7pm to 7am, and she was ordered to pay �200 costs.
Passing sentence, magistrates said Smith’s lying to the council about the value of the inheritance showed that her fraud was clearly wilful. They added that, although they had suspended the sentence, the level of the deception meant that she could well have found herself sent straight to jail.
Councillor Kit Owen, FDC’s portfolio holder responsible for benefits, said: “The benefits system exists to help those in need. It is seriously undermined by people who deliberately cheat and lie about their circumstances.
“This case demonstrates that we will not hesitate to pursue anyone who makes false claims. Often, as in this case, we rely on members of the public to tell us if they suspect someone of making a fraudulent claim. They should report it to us and we will look into it and take the appropriate action.”
*Anyone suspecting that benefit fraud is taking place can call Fenland District Council’s special fraud hotline on 01354 622583 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org