Clevedon mum jailed over £70k benefit fraud
By Local_Andy | Monday, June 06, 2011, 09:48
A Clevedon mother-of-three has been jailed for five months for swindling more than £70,000 in benefits.
For five years Maxine Ireland claimed income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit on the premise that her husband Paul Rutherford was not living with the family.
But the Department for Work and Pensions investigated the claims when Mr Rutherford signed a credit agreement saying he was living at the Clevedon property.
Bristol Crown Court heard that Ireland, 40, of Old Street, had never worked and started claiming benefits in 1990.
She married Mr Rutherford in 2004 but after they had a son the following year Ireland put in a claim for benefits, saying her husband did not live with her.
Prosecuting at Bristol Crown Court on behalf of the DWP and North Somerset Council, James Cranfield said that between 2004 and 2009 Ireland claimed £71,500 which she wasn't entitled to – £44,182 in income support, £22,943 in housing benefit and £4,557 in council tax benefit.
She later admitted failing to notify of a change of circumstances that could affect a benefit claim, two counts of making false statements to gain benefits and two counts of deception.
Mr Cranfield said: "In interview she said she and her husband had married on a Saturday, had an enormous argument and the relationship had broken down by the Monday.
"She said he lived in his car and at friends' houses and that she didn't have a partner who was in work living at the address."
Defending Ireland, who sobbed in the dock throughout the hearing which was attended by her two daughters, Jennifer Talentire told the court that she had since gained work as a domestic assistant and she was well-thought of by her employers.
Ms Talentire said Ireland had a "turbulent" personal life, and had issues with alcohol and depression since she first had children.
Ms Talentire said that after she and Mr Rutherford had a son together he was happy to feed him and give him pocket money, but didn't feel that it was his responsibility to look after Ireland's daughters.
Ireland told the DWP that she was scared of being left with no money.
Ms Talentire said the claim amounted to about £14,000 a year for four people, and that Ireland was by no means living a luxurious lifestyle.
She said Ireland was terrified her family would be torn apart if she went to prison.
But Her Honour Judge Carol Hagen said: "The fact of the matter is that you claimed £70,000 to which you were not entitled over five years, and the sentence has to reflect that fact."
DWP Minister Lord Freud said: "Fraud prosecutions such as this show why it is essential claimants are truthful with the department.
"In addition to the sentence imposed by the court, the department always seeks to recover the benefits falsely obtained, to ensure that fraudsters do not benefit financially from their criminal activities."
£1.6 billion of taxpayers' money is lost through benefits and tax credits fraud every year.