Grieving mother faces fraud charges for undisclosed savings
A 57-year-old woman with mental health problems who has struggled to come to terms with the death of her son found herself dragged through the legal system last month. And all because of a gift from a well-meaning family member.
Back in 2010, Judith Porter’s youngest son Ashley died suddenly, on the day after his 19th birthday, at Cumberland Infirmary. He had started coughing up blood at school, and despite having learning difficulties, had been admitted to a communal adult ward without any additional support. From that point on, a series of mistakes, misdiagnoses and failures to take into account his past medical conditions contributed to his tragic death.
Mrs Porter has never come to terms with her son’s death, and the strain of the inquest that followed it. She has suffered from mental health problems ever since.
Mrs Porter has been in receipt of housing benefit for some years, but in late 2012, a well-meaning family member gave her £10,000 as a gift. She placed the money into her savings account and has not touched it from that day to this. But what she did not realise was that it had pushed her savings above the permitted limit and had rendered her benefit claims from October 2012 to December 2016 fraudulent.
The Department of Work and Pensions therefore commenced legal action against her and she was brought before Rickergate Magistrates’ Court in Carlisle, charged with two counts of benefit fraud. Prosecutors stated that in failing to disclose the additional money in her savings account, she had defrauded the benefits system to the tune of £18,000.
Fraud was unintentional
Giving evidence, a probation officer who had spent several hours interviewing Mrs Porter said that her mental health was of grave concern. She told the court that there was “clearly no intention” to take money unlawfully. She went on to explain that the situation was exacerbated by her habit of destroying any correspondence that came in through the letter box.
The officer felt that Mrs Porter had not received the mental health support she needed and had been let down by the local health services.
The presiding magistrates took the probation officer’s evidence into account, and also commented on Mrs Porter’s previous good character. They accepted that her initial housing benefit claim had been genuine, and that is was only this additional money that was put into her savings account that had led to the change of circumstances.
In sentencing, they handed Mrs Porter a 12-month community order. She was also ordered to pay a £200 fine, an £85 victim surcharge and £85 in court costs.
Is the DWP aware of your circumstances?
If you are claiming any kind of benefit, are the DWP aware of all your circumstances and assets? Are you quite sure? The topic of undisclosed savings is one that can trip anyone up, and it is impossible not to feel some sympathy for Mrs Porter.
The thing to keep in mind is that the DWP has powerful tools at its disposal to check up on claimants – it has even been known to question them on long-dormant accounts that they had completely forgotten about!
They can and will dig into anything they come across, so if you are in receipt of a letter saying you are under investigation, your first course of action should be to contact us. We will deal with the investigators on your behalf and make sure you never have to attend an interview. We know them, and they know us – so let us help you reach the best conclusion.
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