A 49-YEAR-OLD woman who illegally claimed more than £40,000 in benefits was snared by an ‘enterprising’ council scheme.
Sharon Straw, who claimed income support, housing benefit and council tax, did not tell the authorities when her partner moved in with her.
Judge Andrew Hamilton said Straw was ‘thoroughly and utterly dishonest’.
She was caught five years later after Erewash Borough Council decided to compare addresses of market traders in the area with people claiming benefits.
During the investigation, the council discovered trader Terrance Newcombe was living at Straw’s address in Thistle Road, Ilkeston.
Derby Crown Court heard that Mr Newcombe had £16,000 in savings.
Sentencing Straw, Judge Andrew Hamilton said: “You managed to get out of the State over £40,000. It was thoroughly and utterly dishonest.”
He handed Straw an eight-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, after she admitted two counts of failing to notify the Department for Work and Pensions of a change in circumstances.
Judge Hamilton said: “Congratulations to Erewash Borough Council – extremely enterprising to come up with this idea and clearly there will be other skeletons in the cupboard waiting for a knock on the door.”
He said he hoped the case would make other people own up and avoid court.
The court was told Straw had paid back all £40,633 to the council. The repayments began with a £20,000 lump sum from Mr Newcombe.
Andrew Wesley, in mitigation, said the couple had not been using the benefits to fund an ‘exotic lifestyle’, instead the money was being used for day-to-day living.
He said Straw suffered from depression and cared for her teenage daughter, who had learning difficulties.
Straw had not reported the change because she had been uncertain of the long-term future of her relationship.
Straw was told to do 150 hours’ unpaid work and must abide by a four-month curfew between 7pm and 6am. She must also pay £250 costs.
After the case, Ian Sankey, director for resources at the council, said: “We continually look for new ways to find people who are falsely claiming money.
“Most of the investigative work is done by using information that we have, liaising with the Department for Work and Pensions and cross-matching data.”