Benefit fraud mum had savings

A MOTHER who stole nearly £8,000 from taxpayers by dishonestly claiming benefits has narrowly avoided a jail term.Karen Lester swindled £7,857.79 through income support benefits when she had more than £3,000 in savings and received weekly maintenance payments of £100 from her husband.

A MOTHER who stole nearly £8,000 from taxpayers by dishonestly claiming benefits has narrowly avoided a jail term.

Karen Lester swindled £7,857.79 through income support benefits when she had more than £3,000 in savings and received weekly maintenance payments of £100 from her husband.

Lester, 40, of Welburn Close, Ipswich, says she is going to declare herself bankrupt. If she does, the state may never see any of the money again.

Lester, who is £40,000 in debt to catalogue and credit card companies, pleaded guilty to committing two offences of dishonestly making false statements or representations to obtain benefit or payment during 2002.

During Monday's hearing at South East Suffolk Magistrates' Court she asked for 23 similar offences to be taken into consideration.

Andrew Riley, prosecuting, said: "There was an overpayment of £7,857.79, but there was no entitlement because she was receiving maintenance payments from her husband and had in excess of £3,000 in savings."

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When Lester was interviewed by staff from the Department of Social Security on April 7 last year, she said £100 a week was being paid into her bank account by her husband because she was helping him save for an HGV licence.

She said the more than £3,000 in her savings account belonged to her children - a grown-up son and 12-year-old daughter.

Lester denied that any of the money was hers.

Mark Holt, mitigating, said Lester came from a "good family background" and had O-level qualifications but no work related experience.

District Judge David Cooper said: "You have cheated the public purse quite deliberately for more than £7,000 and if you file for bankruptcy the public purse, all of us, will never see that money again.

"You suffer from depression and other chronic illnesses. If it was not for that you would go straight to prison this afternoon."

However, Judge Cooper said because of the "exceptional circumstances" he would sentence Lester to a three-month suspended jail term.

He told Lester if she was involved in any more fraud in the next two years she would go to prison.

Natalie Jones, a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions, said: "Working closely with our partners such as local authorities means that we know where and when people try to commit benefit fraud.

"The public can help by calling the anonymous benefit fraud hotline on 0800 854440."

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