Benefits fiddler gets suspended jail term

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A FRAUDSTER who swindled £38,000 in tax credits while working as a benefits advisor has walked from court.

Janice Lee, 37, claimed £38,009.19 in Government tax credits she was not entitled to by lying about her child care costs and claiming she was a single mum.

She later failed to tell officials her partner, and father of two of her five children, was living with her and contributing to the family finances.

Lee was working as a benefits advisor to single parents for the Department of Work and Pensions while she continued to rack up the benefits over five years.

She admitted six counts of fraud between April 2005 and September 2010 but was spared prison yesterday when she was given a suspended sentence.

Andrew West, prosecuting at Teesside Crown Court, said: “The Crown don’t say she used her position to abuse the system but it does show she must have been aware that what she was doing was wrong and aggravates it to that extent.”

Mr West said between 2005 and 2006 Lee had received £105 a week when her childcare costs were really just £23.

The court heard her claim for tax credits had been genuine to start with.

Richard Herrmann, mitigating, said Lee, had had “an incredibly difficult adult life” and her first serious relationship was abusive and violent.

He said the relationship with her current partner was an on-off one adding: “There would be long periods when he wouldn’t live there at all.”

Lee, of Thornton Street, Hartlepool, is now working in a bookmakers where she is a trusted employee.

Recorder Julian Goose QC said he could suspend prison because Lee had pleaded guilty and was of previous good character.

He said: “The offence is aggravated by the length of time over which you over claimed.

“This is not something that happened over a few weeks or months.

“It took place over five years, consequently the sum is very large.

“You are very lucky indeed to have an employer who will let you anywhere near money.

“I’m persuaded a suspended sentence is appropriate.”

Lee was given six months prison suspended for two years and 140 hours unpaid work.

She will be made to pay the money back over time.