Tracy Jones, Benefits Cheat Who Claimed She Could Barely Walk, Filmed Taking Dogs For Hike
A benefits cheat who claimed she could barely walk was rumbled when she was filmed taking her dogs for a three mile hike.
Tracy Jones, 50, was paid more than £56,000 in mobility allowance over seven years after insisting she could only walk 15 metres with assistance.
But she was caught when the Department for Work and Pensions investigated a tip off - and found Jones strolling through fields for at least three miles with her two dogs.
Undercover photographs were then taken of Jones walking her Rottweilers on an airfield in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.
She later pleaded guilty to obtaining £56,700 by deception from 2002 to 2009 at Bristol Crown Court.
The court was told it would take her 93 years to pay back the money at her current rate of £25 a fortnight - making Jones 143 years old before the debt was settled.
Judge David Ticehurst handed her an eight-month prison term, suspended for 12 months and ordered her to do 100 hours of unpaid work at the court last week.
He said: "Members of the public who work hard, pay their taxes and national insurance are rightly angered with people like you who cheat the system.
"You did so over a considerable length of time.
"Year after year letters arrived and year after year you continued to claim benefit to which you were not entitled. At 50 you are at serious risk of going to prison."
Jones received disability living allowance from 1995 and began claiming the higher rate of mobility allowance for people who cannot walk in 2000.
Kate Brunner, prosecuting, said Jones self-repeated her benefit claim in 2004 - stating she had depression and chronic fatigue and could only walk a short distance.
The court heard between 2004 and 2006 Jones confirmed that she was severely disabled and lived alone in Weston-super-Mare.
But in 2007, the DWP received information that Jones was living with her husband Peter.
An investigator then filmed Jones walking her dogs for three miles around the airfield "without a care in the world and at normal pace".
Further research found Mr Jones had been living with his wife from at least 2002, via evidence such as car registration, bank documents, gas bills, Sky TV bills and TV licences.
In questioning, Jones initially denied living with her husband.
But she admitted her medication had improved her mobility and she had been able to walk her dog after being confronted with a video of her on the airfield.
Simon Burns, mitigating at the court, said Jones had initially been entitled to the benefits but then her claims turned fraudulent.
He said the former care worker had suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome and had also suffered from a historic mental breakdown which left her very ill.
Mr Burns added: "When she became better she should have informed the authorities she was better.
"She is horrified at her position now. She is terrified at the prospect of a custodial sentence.
"There were no lavish holidays or flash lifestyle. There was no eating out or entertainment. It was spent at supermarkets and on petrol."
He added that Jones walked her dog because she had to and often returned to bed when she returned home.
Speaking after the case, Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said: "Benefit thieves are costing the taxpayer over £1billion per year.
"This money is intended to help those most in need, not line the pockets of criminals.
"We will continue to tackle this problem at the frontline but also at the root, by reforming the benefits system to make it less open to abuse.
"Universal Credit will simplify and automate the benefits system to make it less open to abuse and ensure this money is going to those who need it the most."
Jones declined to comment as she left court.