Mum admits £4,000 of benefit fraud

AN Alnwick woman who obtained more than £4,000 worth of benefits after failing to notify the authorities that she had married and was living with her husband has been given a conditional discharge.

Berwick Magistrates’ Court heard last Thursday how Elizabeth Warner, of Cedar Grove, had been claiming Income Support and council tax and housing benefit,

But then she married Peter Thornton and started living with him, failing to notify the local authority or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about the changes.

Prosecuting on behalf of the DWP, Keith White told the court that the 32-year-old, who pleaded guilty, had been claiming Income Support from October 2009, but then married a year later and began living with her husband.

Mr White said that Warner was taken in for interview in July 2011 about misclaimed benefits following a joint investigation with Northumberland County Council, at which point she admitted failing to notify either about the change in her circumstances.

Defending, Ian O’Rourke said that the initial claims for benefits were legitimate, but added that Warner had ‘let things slip’ during a difficult period in her life and then became too embarrassed to inform the authorities of the changes.

Mr O’Rourke added that Warner was 16 weeks pregnant and had health concerns due to low blood pressure. She also had three other children, aged seven, six and two.

The court heard that Warner had voluntarily started to repay £20 a week to the DWP, but hoped to increase this once her husband returned to his previous employment as an oil engineer in Libya.

However, Mr O’Rourke said that part of the blame for the total of £4,442.87 wrongly claimed benefits lay with the county council, who, despite being involved in the investigation, failed to cancel Warner’s housing and council tax benefits until October 2011, three months after the DWP stopped the Income Support.

Tony Flynn, from Northumbria Probation Trust, told the bench that because of Warner’s pregnancy and concerns for her health, she would be unsuitable for unpaid work and because of her good character supervision would be unnecessary and a curfew would be unsuitable because of her children.

He added that because of the unrest in Libya, Mr Thornton had not been paid properly for periods of employment and had been unable to gain benefits when he returned to the UK because he was in theory still employed in Libya.

Mr Flynn suggested that in place of a community penalty the magistrates could impose a fine if they felt it appropriate.

However, the magistrates decided to impose a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered Warner to pay £100 court costs.