UK

Mother Guilty Of Pocketing £350K In Benefits And Tax Credits

23/05/2013 16:49 BST

A mother has been found guilty of fraudulently pocketing more than £350,000 in benefits and tax credits by claiming her children had disabilities and conditions.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was responsible for one of the biggest single benefit fraud overpayments recorded, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials.

dwp fraud

The woman faces a 'substantial' jail sentence for the frauds

She made claims for benefits on the basis that some of her children suffered various disabilities and conditions which affected their care and mobility needs.

But a five-week trial heard that despite the reputed health problems, the children led active lives, taking part in PE classes and other activities, including music, drama and dance, without signs of difficulties.

Some also attended fee-paying schools and performed in professional productions on television and on stage, including in well-known musicals, jurors heard.

Prosecutors said that the acting, dancing and singing required for the roles were inconsistent with the care and mobility described in claims for disability living allowance (DLA).

The mother received an overpayment of benefits to which she was not entitled of around £353,000 over an eight-year period from 2002 and at the time of her arrest lived in a seven-bedroom property. The false payments relate to DLA, carer's allowance, tax credits and housing and council tax benefit.

She denied 24 counts including fraud, obtaining a money transfer by deception and obtaining property by deception but was convicted on Thursday on all but one count - making a false representation.

Remanding the mother into custody until sentencing on Friday, the judge said she would face a "substantial custodial sentence" as he described her as a "very dishonest woman".

The mother shook her head in the dock as the jury foreman returned overwhelmingly guilty verdicts after the jury had deliberated for just over two days.

The judge told her: "You have been convicted by the unaminous verdicts of the jury on clear evidence of serious offences of dishonesty involving deceiving the public purse and the taxpayer of around £350,000 over a period of some 10 years."

He added: "You have been very dishonest for a long period of time. You are a highly intelligent woman.

"You must have realised how dishonest you were being and the time has come to face up to the consequences to your actions, those actions impacting on your wholly innocent children."

On claim forms, the mother said some of her children suffered problems with their speech and language, physical disabilities, mental health problems and severe learning disabilities and behavioural problems.

But the court heard the schools which they attended had no records and were unaware of the children having learning difficulties, or communication and walking problems.

And there were no special arrangements in place for their education or their evacuation in an emergency. In fact, some of the schools did not even cater for disabled children.

Some of the children travelled to a performing arts school in London, involving them travelling by train from their home town to the capital during rush hour and then by underground.

DVDs seized from the mother's home showed the children from a young age taking part in activities inside and outside home and on holiday without any apparent disability.

During her defence, she told jurors that sending some of her children to stage schools helped their self-esteem.

She said: "Despite having a language disorder, they can imitate and mimic. It's a skill that helps their self-esteem and it's something that I do to the extreme and, my God, it helps them."

She added: "As their music ability started to come out, I took every opportunity to do it with them. If I hadn't they wouldn't be ... (one of her children) would be in his room all day and wouldn't leave the house."

The jury heard that in a school report, one of her children was regarded as an "outstanding pupil". The mother said: "I think you can still have a disability and achieve academically. I don't think that it excludes them from having a severe disability."

Speaking about the disorder suffered by one of her children, she said it presented a "huge problem" in their life and led to them not having friends and finding it difficult to react to situations.