Brazen Norwich mum in �25k benefit fraud

Christine CunninghamSeven years ago Karen Alexander and her partner Andrew Armstrong waged a 'very public campaign' to try to convince housing bosses to move them and their two children out of their 'tiny' council house.Christine Cunningham

Seven years ago Karen Alexander and her partner Andrew Armstrong waged a 'very public campaign' to try to convince housing bosses to move them and their two children out of their 'tiny' council house.

The couple complained to the Evening News and even approached their MP after claiming the property they had been given by Norwich City Council was 'impossible for four people to live in'.

However, what was not declared was that Mr Armstrong should not even have been staying in the West Earlham property in the first place - because his partner was receiving weekly benefits for living alone.

Now, many years and almost �25,000 in false benefit claims later, the dishonesty has finally caught up with Alexander after she was brought before Norwich Crown Court for what was described as her 'brazen cheek'.

Alexander, who is now expecting her fourth child, failed to declare she was living with her long-term partner and over a six-year period received an overpayment of �24,703 in council tax and housing benefits for her city council accommodation.

But the court heard that when the family was living in George Dance Place, in West Earlham, Norwich, it did not stop Alexander, 35, and her partner running a campaign to get a move to a bigger council property.

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In fact on January 9, 2003, the couple criticised the city council for making the four of them live in a one-bedroom house when other council properties nearby lay empty.

Mr Armstrong said at the time: 'The kitchen is so small that when I stand in the middle of it I can touch all four walls. It is an embarrassment that we are being forced to live like this.'

Matthew Edwards, prosecuting on behalf of the city council said that Alexander showed a 'brazen cheek.' He added: 'Despite claiming she was living alone with her children, Alexander and Mr Armstrong ran a very public campaign to move from that home, saying it was too small for the family and writing to their MP and appealing through the newspaper…

'They do all this while she claims she is living on her own with her children. This is a cocking a snook at the council.'

The fact that she was living with Mr Armstrong came to light when Alexander herself finally told the council her partner had moved out in 2008 and investigators then found they had in fact been living together for the past six years.

Mr Edwards said the council was now claiming back the money and that �1,000 had already been repaid.

Alexander, of Barnesdale Road, Tuckswood, Norwich, admitted eight counts of making false benefit claims. She was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work.

Guy Ayers, mitigating, said that the claim had not started out as dishonest. He said the relationship with her partner was not always a stable one and said 'the rules and regulations as to whether you are living with your partner are kept vague, with many women finding they are left in a position of having to gauge the point as to whether they are living or not living with a partner.'

He said she deserved credit for her guilty plea.

After the case, Yvonne Blake a solicitor working for Norwich City Council, said: 'The council is pleased that the courts are realising the seriousness of this type of offending which has an impact on funds available for people genuinely in need. This is a long period of criminality and a substantial amount of benefits were paid to someone who was not entitled to receive them.'