A BENEFITS cheat swindled almost £18,000 of taxpayers’ money when she claimed to be a single mum while she was really married.
Mum-of-four Angela Lowery, 31, was paid Income Support and other benefits for almost two years on the understanding she was a single parent.
But it emerged her husband Robert was living with her, and child tax credits were paid into his bank account.
The Department of Work and Pensions and Hartlepool Borough Council launched a joint probe after officials were tipped off about Lowery on a national benefit fraud hotline.
Lowery fraudulently claimed an extra £17,815 she was not entitled to between November 2008 and October 2010.
It was made up of £13,153 in Income Support, for people on low income, and £4,661 in housing and council tax benefits.
Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court heard Lowery, who had briefly split from her husband, signed claim forms in November 2008 as a single parent.
But Tony MacNab, prosecuting, said she was soon back together with him yet failed to tell officials.
Mr MacNab said: “She claimed on the basis she was a lone parent with no other form of income.
“Information from the national benefit fraud hot-line suggested she was living with her husband who was working.”
The investigation found she and her husband had gone on a trip to Amsterdam together when they both gave the same address.
And both Lowery and her husband gave the same address on the electoral register.
Lowery sobbed in court as she was told she risked being sent to prison for the offences.
But she was spared immediate jail and given a suspended sentence.
John Relton, mitigating, said Lowery’s husband had gradually taken on more financial responsibilities after they reconciled.
He said: “She failed to recognise the scale of her misconduct.
“She is not a woman who has lived the high life.”
Lowery, of Mitchell Street, Hartlepool, admitted two charges of failing to notify of a change of circumstances.
She was given 24 weeks prison suspended for 12 months with probation supervision and 150 hours community work.
Chairman of the bench Joan Fenwick said: “It’s a serious matter and it’s a very substantial amount of money involved.
“We haven’t looked at this lightly.
“You did give an early guilty plea.
“But we feel a suspended sentence needs to hang over you on this.”
Lowery’s case came in the week that Hartlepool woman Janice Lee was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for two years, plus 140 hours of unpaid work, after pleading guilty to six offences of fraudulently claiming £38,009 in tax credits
Lee, 38 of the town’s Thornton Street, also claimed to be a lone parent despite living with her partner.
Mike O’Grady, assistant director at HM Revenue & Customs, said: “We are investing a lot of time and effort into investigating those who defraud the system. Anyone tempted to commit a similar fraud needs to realise that they risk ending up in court.”