68 year old cleaning lady charged with benefit fraud – for doing two extra hours
When you hear the phrase “benefit fraud” it can cover a whole range of misdemeanours. In recent weeks we have talked about fraudsters who claimed tens of thousands of pounds to have cosmetic surgery or go on luxury holidays, and we have also talked about people unwittingly sent over the permitted savings limit due to financial gifts from well-intentioned family members.
While these make interesting case studies, the pattern that regular readers will probably notice is that as far as the DWP is concerned, they really don’t care about the circumstances. If they think that money has been falsely claimed and paid, they will do everything they can to recover it, including pursuing legal action. In those out-and-out fraud cases, you probably think they are quite right to do so. In others, however – well, let’s look at the story of Elaine Robinson, and you can see what you think.
Taking on extra hours
The story goes back 15 years to when Mrs Robinson, who was 53 at the time, finally escaped an abusive relationship and moved into a one-bedroom flat in Teesside. She had been working as a cleaner at a local social club for a number of years, and had next to nothing in the way of assets.
As she set about rebuilding her life, she put in an entirely genuine and honest claim for housing benefit and council tax benefit. She informed the DWP about her part time work on the minimum wage.
Four years later, she was offered an extra two hours of cleaning work, three times a week, still at the minimum wage, which she accepted. What she failed to understand, however, was that she needed to report these extra hours to Redcar Council.
The most bizarre aspect to the entire case is that Mrs Robinson withdrew her claim in 2012 and has long since retired. She is still in her one-bedroom flat and is claiming a state pension. Late last year, the DWP commenced an investigation and interviewed Mrs Robinson. And last month, she found herself dragged through the legal system and charged with defrauding the benefits system to the tune of £11,000 between 2008 and 2012, through failure to report a change in circumstances.
Mrs Robinson appeared at Redcar Crown Court and pleaded guilty to the charge. She told a probation officer that she was “absolutely devastated” by the affair, having led a life of hard work and never been in any kind of legal trouble in all her 68 years. Her defending lawyer, Andrew Coleman, confirmed that she has already made arrangements to repay the money via deductions from her pension.
Judge Stephen Ashurst took Mrs Robinson’s good character and the fact that she had made a mistake and had not set out to defraud anybody into account. He said she had clearly “taken her eye off the ball” and not declared the additional work when she should have done. He also commented that she was in no way supporting a lavish lifestyle, but simply working hard to make ends meet. Mrs Robinson was given a one-year community order and told to do 100 hours unpaid work.
It is interesting to note that while the DWP took more than five years to start the investigation, they refused to rest till it came to its conclusion. At Hylton Potts, we would not have allowed Mrs Robinson to face interview last October, and we would have sought a more sensible solution, without this matter going anywhere near a court room.
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