A BENEFIT cheat who fraudulently claimed more than £40,000 and failed to attend court on ten occasions has received a suspended jail term.
Julie Watkins, of Campbell Street, Rugby, was finally arrested under warrant on November 26 and taken to Leamington Magistrates Court, where she pleaded guilty to making a false statement in order to claim benefits.
Miss Watkins fraudulently claimed a total of £40,849 between April 2009 and March 2013 – £26,989 in housing benefit, £13,090 in income support and £768 in council tax benefit.
The 39-year-old applied for the benefits on the basis she had separated from her partner and was a single parent.
But Rugby Borough Council and the Department for Work and Pensions launched a joint investigation into her benefit claims after receiving a tip-off she was living with her partner.
When questioned, Watkins said her partner visited her home daily to see the children, but insisted he never stayed overnight.
She claimed she was unaware her partner’s wages were paid into her bank account, and denied he supported her financially.
However, when her partner was questioned he admitted he had been in a continuous relationship with Watkins since 2009 and shared the same address.
He said he was unaware Watkins had been claiming benefits, and only became aware when she asked him to leave the family home in April 2013 after admitting to him an investigation had been launched into her benefit claims.
Magistrates sentenced Watkins to 24 weeks in prison, suspended for 24 months. She was also given a 24 month supervision order with a requirement to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work, and was ordered to pay an £80 victim surcharge.
Watkins must repay the fraudulently claimed income support to the Department for Work and Pensions, and the fraudulently claimed housing and council tax benefits to Rugby Borough Council.
Speaking after the hearing, borough council communities spokeswoman Coun Leigh Hunt said: “This prosecution was a great result of partnership working between the council and the Department for Work and Pensions.
“Anyone who cheats the benefits system must realise they are breaking the law and be aware there is a heavy price to pay.
“The sentence in this case sends a clear message to anyone who thinks they can get away with fraudulently claiming benefits – we will catch you and take you to court.”
To report suspected benefit fraud, contact the council in strictest confidence at email@example.com or on (01788) 533460.
For advice on benefit claims, and how your circumstances affect your benefits, call the council’s benefits team on (01788) 533433.