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24 Jan 2018

43 benefits cheats prosecuted in Plymouth in the last year

Plymouth benefit cheats were convicted of swindling £850,000 from the public purse in 2017, shocking new figures reveal.

Forty-three defendants were sentenced in city courts last year, statistics show.

Figures released by the DWP show the number of people with PL postcodes convicted of false benefit claims.

The figures cover years of previous overpayments – with people pocketing money to which they are not entitled.

Judges have repeatedly warned defendants that the money they swindle could have been spent on schools and hospitals. But few are sent straight to prison, walking free to pay back the money they owe – again often over a period of years.

Figures include offences involving dishonesty, and separate charges which involve oversight rather than fraud.

The figures only include those people prosecuted in court. The DWP accepts offers of repayment from other false claimants, usually of smaller amounts which would be dwarfed by the costs of bringing a case.

A spokesman for the DWP said: “The department takes its responsibility to detect, prevent and recover benefit fraud very seriously as the money paid in benefits is taxpayer’s money. It is right that we ensure it is paid correctly, and recover any money that is paid incorrectly.”

Among false claimants convicted at Plymouth Crown Court last year was 54-year-old Jenette Bishop, who swindled more than £85,000. She pocketed three types of payment claiming she was living alone over a period of nine years – when in fact she shared a house with a partner who was in paid work.

Bishop, from Eggbuckland, pleaded guilty to three counts of dishonesty, failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting a benefit claim on different dates from March 2005 to December 2014.

Plymouth Crown Court heard how she had claimed benefits while going on several holidays with her partner. She was handed an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years after the judge said he could take “personal issues” into account.

Another woman told lies about her own and her husband’s income so she could pocket more than £30,000 in benefits – lavishing some of the cash on a trip to Australia.

Recruitment consultant Barbara Jones, aged 46, repeatedly submitted false accounts grossly underestimating the household earnings, Plymouth Crown Court heard in April.

Jones, from Efford, admitted six charges of making false statements to obtain benefit between 2011 and 2015. The court heard that she was already paying back benefits at a rate of £150 per month, which will take 15 years to pay back. She was handed a 10-week jail term, suspended for 12 months, with 180 hours unpaid work. She must pay £1,000 prosecution costs.

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