Woman pleads guilty to £50,000 benefit fraud

Durham Crown Court

Durham Crown Court

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A Horden woman has avoided a jail sentence after pleading guilty to wrongly claiming more than £50,000 in benefits over a six-year period.

Tracey Musgrove appeared at Durham Crown Court this week charged with dishonestly claiming the cash in housing and council tax benefits and Jobseekers Allowance between March 2007 and September 2013.

The court heard that the 45-year-old first applied for housing and council tax benefits in September 2006, declaring her only income as Jobseekers Allowance and Child Benefit.

Three days earlier, she had made a separate claim to the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) for Jobseekers’ Allowance, saying that she was a lone parent, had no other income and savings were below the allowable threshold.

Musgrove gave her home address as a property in Robson Avenue, Peterlee.

However, routine checks suggested that her partner also lived at the same address and had a full-time job.

Durham County Council obtained a range of evidence which indicated that Musgrove’s partner had been living at the property since at least March 2007. One record showed he still lived there in 2012 and had been doing so for six years.

DWP records, NHS details, building society accounts and a credit report all listed Robson Avenue as Musgrove’s partner’s address. A mobile phone account in her partner’s name

was also registered there.

The building society records also showed that Musgrove and her partner shared an account and that numerous transfers have been made into the joint account from the partner’s solo account.

Musgrove attended an interview at Peterlee Job Centre in September 2014, where she admitted that she knew that any change in circumstances should be reported to the council. She also recognised that she should have declared that her partner had lived with her but only admitted he had done so from August 2010 or August 2011.

As a result of failing to declare that her partner lived with her, Musgrove, who now lives in South Terrace, Horden, falsely claimed £51,723.28 in benefits.

This included overpayments of £31,060.87 in housing benefit, £3,843.47 in council tax benefit, £1,045.35 in council tax reduction and £15,773.59 in Jobseekers Allowance.

Musgrove, whose early guilty plea was acknowledged by the court, was given an eight-month suspended sentence and a one-year supervision order. She was also ordered to pay an £80 victim surcharge.

Afterwards, Paul Bradley, Durham County Council’s chief internal auditor and corporate fraud manager, said: “The defendant claimed a significant sum of money which she was

clearly not entitled to but we were able to identify her through our routine checks.

“This should serve as a reminder that our checks are very effective in uncovering people who make false claims or do not keep us up-to-date on relevant changes to their

circumstances.”