A FORMER vice president of a Yorkshire chamber of commerce has been given a suspended jail sentence after an investigation revealed he had committed benefit fraud worth more than £12,000.
Derek Carpenter, 61, was second-in-command at the Barnsley Chamber for a year from September 2010, and still serves as a governor of the board of Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
He has also been on the board of governors of Barnsley College, served as a board director on the Barnsley Development Agency and also describes himself on several websites as a business coach.
Carpenter’s fraud was uncovered by Barnsley Council’s benefit investigation team, after concerns were raised over his claims for council tax benefit, housing benefit and Jobseekers’ Allowance.
He had claimed he was unemployed and had no income, but officers discovered that he was managing to pay rent on his home in Royston, north of Barnsley, which was costing him around £600 a month.
A spokesman from the team said: “Fraud officers accessed the bank accounts of Derek Carpenter using powers contained withing the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Act 2001.
“Carpenter’s bank statements from July 2009 revealed numerous credits that were later shown to be for work he had undertaken. This work and the income obtained was not declared.
“Investigations also revealed that while Carpenter was being paid benefits he was advertising on the internet as a sales and marketing director, a business coach and a personal development mentor.”
Barnsley Council said Carpenter was interviewed under caution about the concerns by fraud officers from both the local authority and the Department for Work and Pensions in April 2011.
The spokesman added: “There is no record that he informed either Barnsley Council or the Department for Work and Pensions that he was self-employed.”
According to figures released by the council, Carpenter received £5,587.03 in housing benefit, £2,043.17 in council tax benefit and £4,880.60 in Jobseekers’ Allowance at a time when he was not entitled to any benefit.
He first appeared before Barnsley magistrates in July this year to face three charges of benefit fraud committed between August 2009 and October 2010. He initially denied all three counts.
The case was committed to Sheffield Crown Court for trial, but Carpenter changed his plea to guilty when he appeared there on December 10, meaning a jury was not required to hear the case.
Judge Paul Watson was told that during the period in question Carpenter received income in excess of £27,000 which he had failed to declare.
The court heard that Carpenter was suffering from poor health and has to care for a sick brother, and was told the case had caused both him and his family distress.
Judge Watson said he had taken these factors into account when considering the case and sentenced Carpenter to four months in prison suspended for 12 months.
Carpenter, who could not be contacted for comment yesterday, was also made the subject of an order which requires him to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work in the community.
He is currently repaying the £12,510.80 in overclaimed benefits, but under arrangements agreed by the court, this could take up to 13 years.
Yesterday Coun Alan Gardiner, Barnsley Council’s cabinet spokesman for corporate services, welcomed the successful prosecution.
He said: “This case sends out a clear message to anyone who is cheating the benefits system that such abuse will not be tolerated.
“We want to ensure that all those people who are in genuine need receive the benefits they are entitled to.”
Coun Gardiner urged people in Barnsley and elsewhere to report any suspicions they may have about benefit cheats.