A BENEFITS cheat has been jailed for four months for what a judge called a "wholesale attack on public finances".
Stephen Chase, 36, pocketed just under 26,000 after claiming he was unfit for work while secretly taking on various different jobs for five years.
He claimed a total of 25,948.84 in Incapacity Benefit despite working in warehouses and as a labourer for a groundworks business.
James Kemp, prosecuting for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) at Teesside Crown Court, said Chase's claim was honest when he signed on in June 2002.
But he took on work later that year from October 17 to July 6, 2003.
After a short gap he started working again while still claiming Income Support from April 3, 2005, to May 11 last year.
Mr Kemp said: "He undertook a number of employment opportunities while he was receiving benefit.
"His claim stated he had difficulty working, yet he was working for some time in warehouses for labourers and doing groundworks."
Chase admitted two counts of failing to notify the DWP of a change in circumstances.
Martin Scarborough, mitigating, said Chase was not working for the whole of the time he received benefits and added his struggles to pay his rent and bills was the motive.
He said: "He fully accepts the offence and knows he should have told the department about all these short-term employments he was doing.
"It's not where he was leeching from the state so he could spend it on plasma televisions."
Chase, of White Crescent, Hesleden, was jailed for four months.
Judge Peter Bowers said he felt the sentencing guidelines were "remarkably lenient".
He added: "This is fraud which is very easy to commit and much more difficult to detect.
"This went on certainly for about five years and it's just rank dishonesty.
"Whatever the reason you may have put forward there cannot justify this wholesale sort of attack on the Government's finances."