A COUNCIL warned that it is taking a “zero tolerance” approach to benefit fraud after a woman was jailed for 15 months for falsely claiming nearly £100,000.
Scarborough Borough Council launched an investigation into the theft as part of a crackdown on benefit fraud, which has resulted in a series of convictions this year.
In the latest case, York Crown Court heard that Elaine Hetherington, 53, of Colescliffe Crescent, Scarborough, falsely claimed nearly £100,000 in housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support, having lied on a succession of forms since July 1995.
Hetherington, who pleaded guilty to nine charges relating to dishonestly claiming the cash, posed as a single parent, hiding the fact her husband lived with her and was working full-time.
Sentencing her to 15 months in prison, Recorder Deborah Sherwin said Hetherington had claimed falsely from the outset and had continued the offence for more than 10 years.
She said she could not suspend the sentence because of the length of time of the fraud and the amount involved.
The recorder told Hetherington that other people struggle on a low income and with health problems but they did not resort to crimes like fraud.
A spokesman from the council’s counter-fraud team said: “We have brought several cases recently where we have worked jointly with the Department for Work and Pensions investigation team.
“These are big cases and their success is a testament to a strong commitment to working together. Many would not have come to court if the council had not undertaken the prosecution.
“The council’s legal team also gives us the local expertise and flexibility we need to get the right results when a case comes to court.”
The council’s head of finance and asset management, Nick Edwards, added: “The council brought this case to prosecution because of the huge amount of public money that has been stolen.
“This person’s claim was never an honest one and this dishonesty continued for more than 10 years.
“There is a clear moral duty to investigate benefit fraud.
“This crime is committed against local residents, as it reduces the money available for projects that support the local community and takes funds away from people who most need them.”