December 7 2013 Latest news:
Dominic Bareham, senior reporter
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
A woman who dishonestly claimed nearly £100,000 in benefits was spared prison after a court heard she had failed to receive £71,000 in working and child tax credits she was entitled to.
Elizabeth Owen, 36, of North Quay, Great Yarmouth, admitted 10 counts of benefit fraud during a period from 2002-2010 when she dishonestly claimed £99,220 in income support, housing and council tax benefits after failing to admit she was in a relationship.
But instead of jailing the mum-of-three, Judge Stephen Holt gave her a 10-month suspended sentence due to her dependent children, aged between 10 and 15, but also the unclaimed tax credits which reduced her overpayment to about £30,000.
Jonathan Goodman, prosecuting on behalf of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, cited a previous case in which the Court of Appeal ruled the Crown should have taken into account unclaimed benefits when sentencing a defendant for benefit fraud.
He said Owen’s fraud was uncovered when a council officer visited her home in December 2010 for a benefits review to be greeted by a man, who Owen claimed was a friend and living at a different address.
However, during a subsequent visit, the benefits officer found the man was still there and Mr Goodman said Owen’s guilty pleas were an acknowledgement they were in a relationship.
He said between 2002 and 2008 she had to apply for her benefits and had the chance to “regularise” her position by ticking the relevant box to disclose she was living with her partner, which would have meant a reduction in the amount she received.
However, she failed to do so.
“I would submit that Owen’s criminality was deliberate, long-standing and over a period of more than eight years.
“There were many opportunities for her to come clean and regularise her position and the fact that she was dishonest throughout and signing forms year after year is the reason she is before you today,” Mr Goodman added.
Simon Gladwell, mitigating, said Owen, who was in tears in the dock, had moved to Yarmouth when she was pregnant with her third child to be near her mum, who would look after the child after it was born.
However, her mother died in November 2002 and she had since relied on her partner to provide support, adding that she had never lived the “high life”.
He added: “She is very sorry about what she has done. It has been very difficult for her.”
Following the case, Brian Walker, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, said: “This has been the biggest case of benefits fraud the borough council has ever dealt with, and today’s sentence marks a satisfactory end to an investigation which has taken more than two-and-a-half years to reach a conclusion.”